Georgia business: Savannah port continues growth amid trade fears

An informative look at the Port of Savannah

The Georgia Ports Authority said Monday it saw an 8 percent increase in container traffic compared to the same month a year earlier, as the Savannah terminal continues to see growth despite concerns about global trade disputes.

Griff Lynch, the ports authority executive director, said a strong economy and an expansion of the ports’ rail capacity have helped the Savannah port maintain its momentum.

Continued container growth this summer amid heightened trade tensions led some to fear that the ports could see an early peak season as international trade partners sought to ship goods to the U.S. before the onset of tariffs.

But the ports say their forecasts show continued growth as merchants order goods for the holiday season.

“This year for sure will be the heaviest peak season we’ve ever had,” Lynch said.

The port has seen a slowdown in exports of log containers through Savannah as a result of tariffs, but growth in virtually ever other segment.

Georgia’s inland and coastal ports are vital cogs in the state’s economy. A recent study by the University of Georgia found that maritime trade accounts for $44 billion of the state’s gross domestic product and the ports directly or indirectly touch more than 439,000 jobs.

At a meeting in Atlanta on Monday, the ports authority board approved $92 million for projects tied to the Mason Mega Rail Terminal, a sprawling rail yard designed to improve the Savannah terminal's connection to the main CSX and Norfolk Southern rail networks.

The rail project, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2020, could eventually take some 200,000 big rig trucks off the state’s freeways — even as container traffic in and out of the port grows, ports officials have said.

The board vote approved some 23 miles of track, dozens of automated switches and rail control devices and infrastructure needed to power massive cranes to hoist cargo on to and off of trains.