Georgia to build inland port in landlocked county

The rolling hills and thick forests of North Georgia seem like the last place for the state’s next shipping hub. But this landlocked region is where state officials announced Tuesday that they will build an inland port.

The Appalachian Regional Port, which is to open in 2018, will provide a direct 388-mile rail route from northwest Georgia to Savannah’s bustling port. The 42-acre site is being pitched to manufacturers in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky as a “powerful new gateway” to one of the East Coast’s busiest terminals.

“The Port of Savannah is the key to prosperity for the entire state of Georgia,” Gov. Nathan Deal said. “And today’s step is a ratification of that goal. This will become a magnet for manufacturing in this part of Georgia.”

The 42-acre site is lodged in the middle of an industrial belt teeming with carpet and flooring manufacturers. Curtis Foltz, who heads the Georgia Port Authority, said the facility will move 50,000 containers each year to the coast — thus keeping 50,000 tractor-trailers off congested roads in Atlanta.

The state already operates another inland port, in the southwest Georgia town of Cordele, that offers a 200-mile rail route to Savannah. Foltz said there are plans in the works for other regional inland ports elsewhere across the state.

“We are building a network of infrastructure that’s going to allow Georgia more access to global markets,” he said.

The project is expected to create dozens of jobs for Murray County, a rural county of roughly 40,000 that struggles with a declining population. About one in five residents here lives below the poverty line.

“This is like planting a crop and watching it grow,” said state Sen. Charlie Bethel, a Republican who represents the area. “I’m excited about what this holds for us in the years to come.”