RACHEL MARTIN, host:
For millions of Americans, I-95 is just a crowded road they have to navigate, but the interstate highway is also part of the global transportation system. It's a pipeline for goods entering the United States through the port of Savannah. Once at the port, many of the goods are hauled by truck up I-95 towards New York or down into Florida.
As our series on I-95 continues, we look at Georgia's portion of the road. Just a small part runs through the state, but as NPR's Kathy Lohr reports, the economic impact is enormous.
KATHY LOHR: The Port of Savannah sits about five miles east of I-95. Some call it the Quiet Giant.
(Soundbite of elevator)
LOHR: I guess we're here.
We head up more than 200 feet in an elevator on one of four giant cranes to get a broader view of the operation. Every day, 25,000 tons of cargo is funneled through the port.
Mr. ROBERT MORRIS (Georgia Ports Authority): This is the largest single container facility of its kind in all of North America; the second-busiest on the East Coast, next to New York-New Jersey, and the fourth busiest in the nation.
LOHR: Robert Morris works for the Georgia Ports Authority. He says seven to nine thousand 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.
Mr. MORRIS: This is a major hub for, of all things, imported beer. And many of your Christmas goods are beginning to come in.
LOHR: While some ports along the East Coast have struggled, 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 here on I-95.
(Soundbite of trucks)
LOHR: You're hearing the constant rumble of truck traffic along I-95, near Savannah, where another important interstate also intersects, I-16. This is a major transportation logistics point along the East Coast.
Mr. PAGE SIPLON (Georgia Center for Innovation for Logistics): 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 eight or 10 years.
LOHR: Page Siplon is 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.
Mr. SIPLON: 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. It's about the most efficient and, most importantly, the most reliable route to get your cargo where you want it to be.
LOHR: 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.
(Soundbite of horn honking)
LOHR: Billy Robinson is the CEO of Port City Logistics.
Mr. BILLY ROBINSON (CEO, Port City Logistics): You know, we're a public warehouse, so unlike a Home Depot or a Target, we deal with anybody's stuff. So, what you're seeing is a wide variety.
LOHR: Robinson says his company has three warehouses - nearly one million square feet of space - to store merchandise. On a tour, we see paper products, boxes of flavoring to be added to Starbucks coffee and Heineken beer, which has just come in from the port. All of this 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.
Mr. ROBINSON: Yeah, 95's key. It's a huge key.
LOHR: I mean, you guys are really dependent on these major interstates.
Mr. ROBINSON: Yeah, our customers wouldn't come here without them. Our business wouldn't work without them.
LOHR: One of the vital selling points for Robinson's business is the proximity to the road, and 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.
Mr. TODD LONG (Georgia Department of Transportation): That's a lot of money. And, you know, 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.
LOHR: Georgia made I-95 a priority, in part because of the high volume of freight traffic, but also because so many tourists use the interstate and it's a vital evacuation route that funnels people out of Florida in case of a hurricane.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News.
MARTIN: NPR's series I-95: The Road Most Traveled continues on the next WEEKEND EDITION SATURDAY with a report on how the road shaped development in Florida. And if you're driving on I-95, we've got some stops you shouldn't miss. Head to our site, NPR.org/I95.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.