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            june 25, 2019

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Savannah's bridge could hinder port's future growth


Savannah's continued success as a port could be determined by the size of its bridge with mega ships of tomorrow calling at the city's Garden City Terminal, says the local daily, the Savannah Morning News.
With a clearance, or air draft, of 185 feet, the current Talmadge Memorial Bridge's height is expected to hinder ocean-going commerce. That has Savannah and Georgia leaders pondering construction of a taller bridge, said the report.
"Basically the challenge we have before us is that in 2016 the Panama Canal was expanded to accommodate 14,000 and maybe 15,000-TEU ships," said Georgia Port Authority (GPA) executive director Griff Lynch.
"And at that time I think most of the industry thought, okay the bigger the vessel, we will see consolidation of ports. And we have seen some of that. Now there are larger ships on the water, upward of 23,000-TEU. They can't come through the Panama Canal, but they can come through the Suez Canal."
Currently, ships around 8,000 to about 13,000 TEU are making regular calls on Savannah. Ships larger than 13,000 TEU can't come up the river fully loaded, however, until the ongoing harbour-deepening project is complete.
The project, known as SHEP, will give the Savannah River channel a depth of 47 feet at low tide, an increase from the current depth of 42 feet. The high tide depth will be 54 feet. The project is now at its halfway point.
"We have a bridge that would prevent those (supersized) vessels from calling our ports," Mr Lynch said. "Ports around the world, and around the US are fixing that problem today. They are building a bigger bridge. We need to be doing the same thing in Savannah."
A few supersized ships have already started to make port calls in Asia. It will take time, he said, before ocean carriers are ready to come.
"Our ocean carriers, our customers, will determine (in the next 10-20 years) there are enough ships built and that it is time to call the east coast. And when they do that they definitely won't call on five or six ports on the east coast."
Mr Lynch said those ocean carriers will focus their calls on three East Coast ports.
"They will concentrate ship calls on a northern port, and we are sure that will be New York/New Jersey, just when you look at the size of those facilities up there," he said.
Norfolk, Virginia will be the second call, having a deep water port and no air draft restrictions, Mr Lynch said. "And the third place is going to be the Southeast," he said. "And we think Savannah is the location for that."
Mr Lynch said Savannah has the largest capacity to handle that amount of cargo and the best location.
"We are the closest to Atlanta, we are closest to Memphis and we have the on-dock rail that really doesn't exist like this elsewhere in the South," he said.
The GPA is, of course, not in the bridge building business. That job is for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).
Chairwoman of GDOT, Ann Purcell, said it's early days in any process to build a new bridge. "I've got an open mind," she said. "We have to have work studies done, costs and more, and so it's early. I agree we have to start thinking about it."
But the idea of a new bridge is starting to gain some traction, with support from local leaders and elected officials.
"To maintain a competitive edge for the Savannah region and the state of Georgia, we must always be looking toward the future and planning the next steps," said Savannah Economic Development Authority president and CEO Trip Tollison.
"Over the next decade, the size of cargo ships across the world will continue to grow and the replacement of the Talmadge Bridge in the next 10-15 years is a massive, proactive step that must be taken in order for us to cultivate and maintain our competitive edge."

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