Port of Savannah

Port of Savannah Facts: The Port of Savannah is the third largest seaport in the United States in terms of cargo volume. Located 18 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean on the Savannah River, the port is administered by the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA). In addition to the GPA-owned Garden City terminal, Ocean Terminal, and the Savannah Terminal Railroad, the port hosts warehouses and distribution facilities for major retailers such as Target, Walmart, Home Depot, IKEA and Heineken. The port is the largest single container terminal in North America and encompasses two distinct ports and five different terminals providing import and export access to the southeastern United States.

In this Article:

  • Guide to the Port of Savannah
  • The History of the Port of Savannah
  • Port Logistics Begins With Drayage
  • Port of Savannah Freight Brokering
  • Over The Road Truck Transportation
  • Economic Impact of the Port of  Savannah

Guide to the Port of Savannah

The port is one of the fastest-growing in the world, and anticipates rivalry with both the ports of Long Beach / Los Angeles and New York and New Jersey once the current expansion project is completed. With a current capacity of four million TEU’s or Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (a TEU is equivalent to a one shipping container), the addition of a deeper river channel, new cranes, millions of square feet of warehouse and distribution center space, plus new railroad and highway infrastructure, the complex is aiming at a capacity of seven million TEU’s by the mid 2020’s.

There are two major terminals under the auspices of the Georgia Ports Authority: the Garden State Terminal and the Ocean Terminal. Interstate highway connections provide access to major locations across the southeast and midwest in 24 to 48 hours. CSX and Norfolk Southern rail traffic connects the port terminals to freight facilities in Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Memphis and Orlando. On-terminal rail yards gives shippers the option to bypass roadway weight restrictions.

The Garden City Terminal spans 1200 acres and is the highest capacity shipping container yard in the nation. With more than 100 cranes and a rate of 40 ship-to-shore moves per crane per hour, the Port of Savannah is known for efficient movement of freight for export and import.

Ocean Terminal offers a breakbulk option for non-containerized shipments, as well as roll-on / roll-off and project cargo. The onshore facility next to ship berthing areas have almost 400,000 square feet of covered storage and 8 acres of paved open storage. 2,000 feet of rail frontage are served by CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Over 9,700 feet of berth space ensures that freight awaits in safety until its scheduled departure. Should warehousing prove the next step, over three million square feet of space lies within thirty miles of the port, including over one million square feet of refrigerated storage. Savannah boasts rapid access to two major railroad lines and two interstate highways.

The History of the Port of Savannah

From it’s beginning as a riverside commercial district, the Port of Savannah served the progress of an up-and-coming region. Eleven years after James Oglethorpe settled the area in 1733,  the first ocean-going ships docked at the wharves of Savannah. By the 1760’s more than a dozen warehouses lined the shoreline. Rice from local plantations made up most exports, traded for cargoes of English factory-manufactured goods and Mediterranean wines.

The value of the port grew steadily with exports valued by 1855 to $20.1 million. Nearly ninety percent of this wealth was cotton destined for English textile mills. Consortia consisting of the City of Savannah, state-chartered private companies, and state and federal funding sources kept the river dredged and navigable.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers administered the development of the Savannah River’s channels into usable waterways, battling the sandbars built up annually by the river’s sedimentation action and removing shipwrecks and logjams. Manufacturing facilities located farther upriver due to the unbuildable marshy soils near the mouth of the estuary.  became possible with such attention and the area grew in importance.

By 1876, imports and exports through the Port of Savannah reached $70 million with the addition of passenger shipping lines and four different railroads.  

With the beginning of the twentieth century and our nation’s greater involvement on the world stage, portions of the Savannah River up to King’s Island were regularly dredged to keep ever deeper and wider shipping channels clear. Cotton exports were largely displaced by manufactured commodities and shipments from the Savannah Sugar Refinery. World War II saw the manufacture and commissioning of 88 Liberty ships, sailing from Savannah to serve as troop and supply transports all over the world.

A three-person committee was formed in 1945 by the State of Georgia and christened the Georgia Ports Authority. A former US Army depot was purchased by the state for the site of the GPA’s first terminal, followed by a second site in 1950.

In 1965 the first containerized cargo ship entered the port, and the GPA became the first to operate a container crane in the South Atlantic region.

A redesigned Eugene Talmadge Bridge opened in 1991 with vertical clearance of 185 feet at high tide and a horizontal clearance of 1,023 feet. Container ships now held 6,800 TEUs, and growing. With the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) dredging beginning in 2015, the port claims its place as one of the most forward-looking shipping meccas of the world. Future projections include an 8 million-TEU capacity by 2028.

Port Logistics Begins With Drayage

As a responsible shipper, your dream is to gather all the applications of your job into a simple message: get the job done in one stop. We provide logistics beginning with the short distance transportation of drayage of cargo from ship to warehouse, train, or truck or vice versa. We work hard to trim fuel costs and labor needed to complete this necessary part of shipping. For instance, the Port of Savannah’s fleet of twenty-seven ship-to-shore conserves 1,857,000 gallons of diesel fuel by having been electrified for ship-to-shore transport. When necessary, a fuel-efficient jockey truck expedites moving semi trailers around the yard or to a different location within a warehouse to match cargo with appropriate drayage.


Further down the way is warehousing, the protection of cargo from weather while keeping it organized for easy access and accurate dispersal. Should your freight move to warehouses that combined total over three million square feet, within thirty miles of the port lies coverage in several groups: the Savannah River Parkway Corridor, the I-95 Corridor, the 341 Alliance Corridor, and the I-16 Corridor. We analyze your needs and assign appropriate shelter for your freight.

Cargo Security 

Like most industries post 9-11, the Port of Savannah has been challenged to upgrade it’s defenses against attack and theft. Before that date, security was focused mostly on narcotics and trademark infringement (counterfeit retail items). Now the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol office at the port battles terrorism and stowaways intent on doing harm in this country.

With growing federal help, the port has installed layers of security like better fences, camera systems and handheld explosive detectors. They have also grown the number of federal agents from 60 to 90 along with a force of 60 port police officers on duty.

Also adding to the front lines of homeland security are strict rules involving the Transportation Worker Identification Credential or TWIC. Anyone with access to port facilities are required to display and use a badge for movement inside the perimeter of the property.

Cargo theft is also an ongoing battle.

The Southeast Transportation Security Council (SETSC) has partnered with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to tighten security in response to an increase in attempts to steal cargo associated with the port. Their goals included facilitating coordinated deterrents among state and federal agencies like the GPA and private logistics, intermodal and drayage companies that serve the port community.

Sharing current intelligence- what thefts are happening and how they are accomplished, evaluating where security seems to be lacking, and ongoing training in best practices that can be employed by the port community are three objectives of the effort.

Combating all theft on behalf of shippers is a major priority for port stakeholders, especially in light of the the port’s imminent rapid expansion. Secure yards for temporary storage of containers is at the top of the list for preventing crimes from pilfering a few boxes to the disappearance of entire shipping containers.

Port of Savannah Freight Brokering

When time comes to move your shipments along, you will want to contact a freight broker to match cargo to the speediest, most appropriate carrier available. For instance, your needs may include refrigeration, and we accommodate both trucks and trains in our scheduling for any and all perishables. If train service is the way to go, then the Port of Savannah holds justifiable pride in offering the fastest rail transit times in the south Atlantic region. The port contains direct access to on-terminal ramps with on-dock intermodal connections. Five states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina — enjoy overnight service from the port. CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern railroads interface with the port for the benefit of shippers everywhere in the U.S. Gulf, Southeast, and Midwest parts of our country. A $6.5 million six-track rail yard expansion at the Mason Intermodal Container Transfer Facility serves both truck and rail transport more efficiently than ever.

Over The Road Truck Transportation

The Port of Savannah enjoys immediate access to two major interstates. I-16 travels east to west and I-95 runs north to south, with a mere four-hour drive to the important markets of Atlanta, Charlotte and Orlando. No other region has a larger concentration of import distribution centers on the east coast than Savannah. As a gateway to the eastern U.S., Savannah offers a freight beltway by easy on-ramps to both I-16 and I-95 and your shipments are on their way as quickly as possible.

Economic Impact of the Port of  Savannah

Port of SavannahAccording to a study of 2017 fiscal year impacts, the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business estimates that Georgia’s ports represent almost 440.000 full and part time jobs in the state. After a 19 percent increase since 2014, the ports have added over 70,000 positions of employment and now account for 9 percent of Georgia’s total employment picture.

Supporting a number of industries such as transportation, manufacturing, retail sales and agriculture, port commerce accounted for about $106 billion moving through the state’s economy. Other impacts include federal, state and local taxes, which amounted to almost $9 billion.

The port’s reach is not limited to Georgia. Road and rail connections routinely handle freight to destinations in the upper midwest and the gulf states. As the third largest volume port in the U.S., the Port of Savannah saw 8.5 percent of containerized cargo enter the country and 10 percent of containerized exports in 2017.

The Port of Savannah continues to exceed all expectations for it, with huge impacts on the local, state and regional economies. Manufacturers are increasing their presence adjacent to the port, bringing jobs and vitality to the entire Lowcountry area. Make the Port of Savannah your gateway to the world whether you export or import, and let Port City Logistics tackle all your shipping details from drayage to warehousing to over-the-road truck transport.


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