"This is very good information and something we need to know about," said Dana Lemon, an Atlanta-area board member who chairs the board's Intermodal Committee.
The committee, and other board members, heard Georgia Ports Authority Director Curtis Foltz outline the recent growth of the ports in Savannah and Brunswick. He used photographs and diagrams to illustrate plans for what he called a beltway around the area inland from the Savannah port, including the Jimmy DeLoach Parkway to Interstate 95, the extension of Grange Road and the Bampton Road Connector.
All are in some stage of development.
Just completed is an overpass on Ga. 307 over a Norfolk Southern railroad line right near the port gate that speeds up transportation for trucks and trains. It saves six hours just for the trains by allowing them to avoid 21 road intersections at grade crossings.
To show the importance of the projects, he told the story of how traffic tie-ups on the West Coast led shipping customers to direct their freight through Georgia instead to save time and money.
"All these come together -- several last-mile projects -- that will create a beltway for long-term, commerce access to our ports, really second to none in the U.S. and put us in a leadership position," he said. "These are all about making sure that five years from now, 10 years from now, we don't place our ports in the same logjam."
Ports in the Northeast are experiencing similar problems as development around them encroached on roads and rail lines.
Several of the board members expressed interest in shifting more cargo onto trains in an effort to prevent highway traffic congestion in metro Atlanta from getting worse. Foltz said about one-fifth of cargo containers move by rail to and from the port now but that plans call for that portion to increase to 37 percent.
"We see that percentage of rail growing. We think that's necessary, and we're doing everything we can to build the rail infrastructure to support that," he said.
The vast majority of rail lines in Georgia are privately owned, including the two mainline companies that serve the ports, Norfolk Southern and CSX. Although the state doesn't have any direct control over how those companies invest in infrastructure, the state does use its influence and research to try to convince them to spend their money here boosting capacity rather than in other states they serve.