Here’s a sentence I don’t get to write very often: Atlanta got some good news from Chatsworth today. From my AJC colleague Greg Bluestein’s story about the announcement that a new inland port will be built up in Murray County:
“The Appalachian Regional Port, which is to open in 2018, will provide a direct 388-mile rail route from northwest Georgia to Savannah’s bustling port. The 42-acre site is being pitched to manufacturers in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky as a ‘powerful new gateway’ to one of the East Coast’s busiest terminals. … The 42-acre site is lodged in the middle of an industrial belt teeming with carpet and flooring manufacturers. Curtis Foltz, who heads the Georgia Port Authority, said the facility will move 50,000 containers each year to the coast — thus keeping 50,000 tractor-trailers off congested roads in Atlanta.”
Carpet makers aren’t the only ones who will benefit. Chatsworth’s inland port should also be an attractive option to the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga and its nearby suppliers, among other manufacturers. According to the Ports Authority’s website, the plan is to double the inland port’s capacity within 10 years of its opening, meaning as many as 100,000 trucks could be off the road by the end of the next decade. That’d be about 275 trucks a day off the I-75 corridor through metro Atlanta, which won’t solve our traffic problems but should be seen as a piece of the solution.
A couple of caveats are in order. The railroad line in question already faces a severe bottleneck at Howell Junction in northwest Atlanta, where it crosses a busy Norfolk-Southern line. Also, that line is the one I mentioned just yesterday as a possible corridor for commuter rail connecting cities in Cobb County to Atlanta. A draft of the state’s new rail plan contemplates options for unclogging the bottleneck, from a grade separation of the two lines to ease freight traffic on the lines to a freight bypass of Howell Junction that would send cargo elsewhere while creating new passenger capacity. The draft plan calls for a study of those options; I won’t prejudge the outcome, except to say doing nothing isn’t an option.
All that said, the strategy of making relatively small, targeted improvements — the new inland port is projected to cost the state $10 million, Murray County $1 million, the Ports Authority $7.5 million and CSX $5.5 million, or $24 million in all — so that we can make better use of our existing infrastructure is a sound one that we should look to replicate whenever and wherever it makes sense. Consider that tractor-trailers, like the ones that won’t be traveling long stretches of I-75 (and I-16) thanks to this port, cause the most damage to our roads, and that the state spends $230,000 per lane mile just to repave an interstate — meaning it couldn’t repave even an eight-mile stretch of six-lane I-75 for the cost of its contribution to this project. These kinds of projects don’t just save on maintenance costs but on construction costs, too, to the extent they help avoid the need for new builds. We need more of this kind of thinking.