It's The Heart That Keeps I-95's Economy Pumping Just a small part of I-95 runs through Georgia, but it's a vital part of a pipeline that hauls goods to and from the Port of Savannah. Some call the port "The Quiet Giant," and its economic impact is enormous.
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It's The Heart That Keeps I-95's Economy Pumping

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It's The Heart That Keeps I-95's Economy Pumping

It's The Heart That Keeps I-95's Economy Pumping

It's The Heart That Keeps I-95's Economy Pumping

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129302124/129357247" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The container yard at the Port of Savannah handled 2.6 million containers of freight in the past year.  It has four "Super-Post Panamax" cranes, the largest cranes in the world, which can load and unload containers from the largest ships. Kathy Lohr/NPR hide caption

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Kathy Lohr/NPR

The container yard at the Port of Savannah handled 2.6 million containers of freight in the past year.  It has four "Super-Post Panamax" cranes, the largest cranes in the world, which can load and unload containers from the largest ships.

Kathy Lohr/NPR

Interstate 95 isn't just a road crowded with travelers; it's part of the global transportation system. Just a small part of I-95 runs through Georgia, but it's a vital part of a pipeline that hauls goods to and from the Port of Savannah. Some call the port "The Quiet Giant," and its economic impact is enormous.

Every day, 25,000 tons of cargo is funneled through the Port. It's the largest single container facility of its kind in all of North America and the second busiest on the East Coast, after the New York/New Jersey port.

It's also the fourth busiest in the nation. The Georgia Ports Authority's Robert Morris says 7,000 to 9,000 trucks move onto and off of this facility every day.  They're loaded with goods heading for retail stores across the Southeast, the Midwest and along the Gulf Coast.

"This is a major hub for, of all things, imported beer," Morris says, "and many of your Christmas goods are beginning to come in."

Some call the Port of Savannah "The Quiet Giant."  About 80 percent of the freight unloaded at the Port will travel on I-95 for at least some part of the journey to retail stores across the country. Courtesy Port of Savannah hide caption

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Courtesy Port of Savannah

Some call the Port of Savannah "The Quiet Giant."  About 80 percent of the freight unloaded at the Port will travel on I-95 for at least some part of the journey to retail stores across the country.

Courtesy Port of Savannah

The Roar Of The Quiet Giant

While some ports along the East Coast have struggled amid the economic slowdown, the Port of Savannah continues to attract more freight. Last year, it handled 2.6 million containers. About 80 percent of that freight ends up on I-95.

Truck traffic rumbles constantly along one particular area of I-95 near Savannah, where another important interstate also intersects, I-16. This is a major transportation logistics point along the East Coast.

"It's critical. It's what makes one of our assets like the port as competitive and fast-growing as they've been for the past 8 or 10 years," says Page Siplon, head of Georgia's Center of Innovation for Logistics. He says Georgia's ports at Savannah and Brunswick provide nearly 300,000 jobs in the state.

"Having that infrastructure and having that connectivity connects us into other parts of the world that have huge population centers like New York and California," Siplon says. "It's about [being] the most efficient, and most importantly, most reliable route to get your cargo where you want it to be."

Room For All Sizes To Compete

Some of the largest companies have set up distribution centers at this junction on I-95, including Home Depot, IKEA and Wal-Mart. But smaller companies have also built their business around this corridor.

"We're a public warehouse, so unlike a Home Depot or a Target, we deal with anybody's stuff," says Billy Robinson, CEO of Port City Logistics.

Robinson says his company has three warehouses -- nearly one million square feet of space -- to store merchandise. Paper products, boxes of flavoring to be added to Starbucks coffee and Heineken beer are some of his latest shipments from the Port. All of it is unloaded, repackaged and shipped out as needed to southeastern states -- and most of it travels at least part of the way on I-95.

"Yeah, 95's key. It's a huge key," Robinson says. His business is dependent on both I-95 and I-16. "Our customers wouldn't come here without 'em. Our business wouldn’t work without 'em."

But freight traffic isn't the only reason Georgia's made I-95 a priority. The interstate is crucial for tourism, plus it's a vital evacuation route that funnels people out of Florida in case of a hurricane.

In the next few months, Georgia will be the first state in the Southeast to finish its expansion of I-95. It will accommodate three lanes of traffic in each direction from South Carolina to Florida. Todd Long with the Georgia Department of Transportation says the state has spent over a billion dollars in the last 15 years to widen I-95.

"That's a lot of money," he says. "Even today in 2010, that's almost worth an entire capital program for the entire state, invested in one corridor. I would rate it up there as one of the most important interstates we have in the whole country."

Truck Tonnage Flow

Traffic by tonnage on I-95 and other routes in the Southeast U.S. in 2007.

Georgia Truck Tonnage Flow