Governor Hosts U.S. House Transportation Committee Chairman, Urges Further Savannah Harbor Investment

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Tuesday, March 26th, 2024

Governor Brian P. Kemp renewed his call for a federal study to determine necessary harbor updates at the nation’s third-busiest gateway for containerized trade while visiting the Port of Savannah along with Congressman Sam Graves, R-Mo, Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Georgia Congressmen Buddy Carter and Mike Collins.

“The Port of Savannah isn't just one of Georgia's greatest economic engines, it's also an asset for the entire Southeast region and beyond,” said Governor Brian Kemp. “Savannah Harbor improvements would benefit the entire nation, with job creators able to access the global market through one of the busiest ports in the nation as ocean carriers’ vessel capacity continues to grow.”

The Port of Savannah serves international destinations through 37 weekly vessel services, as well as other domestic markets such as Atlanta and locations across the Southeast. Port officials have noted that to better support the nation’s economy, the Savannah River channel requires updates to meet current global shipping demands.

“Clearing the way for larger ships to make a port of call in Savannah will allow vessels with up to 50 percent greater capacity to serve the entire U.S. East Coast,” said GPA Board Chairman Kent Fountain. “The current maximum vessel capacity is 16,000 twenty-foot equivalent container units, but vessels up to 24,000 TEUs could be deployed to the East Coast with enhancements to the Savannah Harbor.”

Georgia’s Congressional delegation is seeking authorization for a Savannah Harbor Improvement Project study to be included in the 2024 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The requested study is aimed at discovering the optimal depth and width of the Savannah Harbor in a potential future improvement program, balancing the cost-benefits for the nation and environmental impact.

"Georgia’s First Congressional District is experiencing tremendous growth, and it is encouraging that the Georgia Ports Authority is planning for this expansion by exploring options to widen and deepen the Port of Savannah, a major economic engine for our state," said Representative Buddy Carter. "I look forward to working with GPA to ensure it can continue to grow with the appropriate support from the federal government, as we can ill-afford to delay a study of future expansion projects if we want to maintain and improve our ports.”

"The Port of Savannah is a key pillar of Georgia’s economy and a trade gateway for the entire United States," said Representative Mike Collins. "Improvements to the port will pay dividends for the whole country and help keep Georgia the best place for business in America. As a member of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I look forward to working with Chairman Graves to responsibly steward taxpayer money by advocating projects that have a good return on investment.”

The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) deepened the river from 42 to 47 feet at low tide, with dredging completed in March 2022. Because that project began 25 years earlier, the shipping channel was designed to accommodate vessels with a capacity of 8,100 twenty-foot equivalent container units. Today, vessels twice that capacity – more than 16,000 TEUs – are calling Savannah as the shipping industry expands vessel size. As a result, the current low tide depth of 47 feet prevents loading these ships to full capacity.

“A deeper, wider harbor will allow vessels to move more cargo and transit the channel more quickly, getting U.S. exports to global markets with greater efficiency and lower emissions,” said GPA President and CEO Griff Lynch. “Ships will be able to take on heavier loads, while faster vessel service will enable the Port of Savannah to handle more vessel calls each year.”