Ga. to open $90 million rail hub tying Gainesville to Savannah port


State officials unveiled plans Monday to build a $90 million inland port — on land connected to one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s top allies — that’s designed to improve access to Savannah’s booming harbor hundreds of miles away and reduce congestion through metro Atlanta.

The Northeast Georgia Inland Port, which will link to Savannah by rail, will be built in Deal’s hometown of Gainesville on a site known as the Gateway Industrial Centre that has attracted a spate of state investment since the governor took office.

Philip Wilheit, who was the governor’s campaign chairman, was a longtime partner in the industrial center, which in recent years has also attracted a Kubota Manufacturing expansion and the state-owned Georgia Poultry Laboratory.

Both Wilheit and Deal focused on the economic development and traffic-saving elements of the project, which when completed in 2021 will be the new shipping hub for millions of tons of goods set to be imported or exported through Savannah.

“It’s almost overwhelming to me what this port will mean to us,” said Wilheit, the chairman of the Gainesville and Hall County Development Authority. He added that it’s set to “make our roads safer and less congested” by eliminating millions of miles of truck traffic.

The 104-acre site sits amid manufacturing plants and industrial complexes roughly 300 miles from the port, a commute that now takes truckers more than four hours one-way on even the best of traffic days. Officials estimate the inland port will eventually keep 150,000 trucks off the road each year.

It is the third in a string of inland ports the state has developed. The first took root in the southwest Georgia town of Cordele, offering manufacturers a 200-mile connection to Savannah. And the second opened earlier this year in Chatsworth.

That 42-acre site is lodged in the middle of an industrial belt teeming with carpet and flooring manufacturers. State officials said that the facility will move 50,000 containers each year to the coast via the CSX railroad — thus keeping 50,000 tractor-trailers off busy Atlanta roads.

The Gainesville hub is bracketed by a four-lane highway on one side and a Norfolk Southern rail line on the other that will provide a direct route to Savannah. The railroad giant, too, is expected to soon move its headquarters to Atlanta.

The governor predicted the inland port, which will begin the first phase of construction next year, could be an even greater economic development engine for this part of Georgia.

To emphasize that point, he announced that Auto Metal Direct, which distributes body panels and trim for classic vehicles, will open a $15 million center near the terminal that will bring 40 jobs to the area.

“Make some room folks. We are going to have to have more people willing to work,” Deal said. “Because we are going to have more jobs here — and these are high-quality jobs we want to see.”

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