EDITORIAL: Middle Georgia is at the center of the future

Why should news that the Georgia Ports Authority is reporting a record year interest Middle Georgians? Why is it important that the Port of Savannah is second only to New York and New Jersey on the East Coast? Why should we applaud the news that Savannah will top last year’s record of 29 million tons and 3.1 million containers and that this year (fiscal year ending June 30) the port will probably handle 500,000 more containers than it did last year?

Depending on the measure, Middle Georgia is about 165 miles from the Port of Savannah and 225 miles from the Port of Brunswick, and while we don’t see ships come and go or the off-loading of millions of containers and thousands of cars and trucks, we do see cargo as it moves through our area -- and that’s why the ports are important to us and why we have to get ready for even more traffic as the new, larger cargo ships come into service. This is no fantasy or pipe dream. The Panama Canal expansion that will allow almost triple the number of TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) the canal can handle is expected to be complete next year. That is why the deepening of the Savannah Harbor is so important.

Some of the increase in tonnage can be attributed to the strikes on the West Coast that almost totally shut down ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, and like all business, the strikes gave East Coast facilities an opportunity to forge relationships with shippers and show them what Georgia ports could do for them -- and Georgia has invested in the infrastructure to do a lot. Through an extensive network of railroads and highway connections, goods received at a Georgia port can be delivered anywhere in the country in three days or less. It’s a four hour drive from the Georgia ports to the major markets of Atlanta; Orlando, Florida; and Charlotte, North Carolina. Interstates 95 and 75 are major highways that serve the eastern third of the country. Interstate 16 connects to I-95 and I-75, which connect to east-west highways Interstates 10 and 20.

There are areas along the routes that need work, and part of the $1 billion that will be raised for transportation infrastructure annually will go to eliminating highway choke points. One of those choke points is the I-16/I-75 interchange that is inadequate for the amount of traffic it is expected to carry in the future, and it is dangerous right now. This is not an endorsement of some of the plans we’ve examined to address the issue. Some of the earlier plans would have only spawned other problems and divided our city in the process. Residents need to understand what’s coming our way. We need to deal with it with thoughtful, constructive debate rather than rather than our usual NIMBYism.