Georgia Ports Container Pop-Up Yards

stack of shipping containers

Georgia Ports Container Pop-Up Yards

A Rapid Deployment Solution to Ease Supply Chain Congestion

Seaports throughout the United States experienced record-high volumes of imports in 2021, with goods arriving and often having no immediate place to go. Fed by rising consumer demand for rapid-delivery e-commerce products, import goods arrived in ship after ship, even as ports were hampered by a continuing pandemic. The Port of Savannah, the second busiest container port on the East Coast, handled more than 5.6 million twenty-foot equivalent container units of cargo in 2021, a 19.9% increase from 2020.

For the Georgia Ports Authority, the key to resuming efficient operations was moving import containers out of the port as quickly as possible, freeing up space to keep cargo moving. This solution was realized in a network of local and regional pop-up container yards where imported cargo moving through the Port of Savannah can be stored off-dock. The program uses existing storage yards and modal transfer facilities with capacity available and with truck and rail infrastructure and security already in place.

HDR assisted the Georgia Ports Authority in conceptualizing and successfully requesting White House funding for a creative solution: pop-up container yards that stage containers away from main port operations.

Working rapidly to address an ongoing dilemma, our team held multiple strategy calls with the port over a matter of weeks to develop its concept for quickly implemented yards, review potential sites and hone its messaging for a final funding request to the White House Supply Chain Disruption Task Force.

Keeping Cargo Moving

Before the pop-up yards, the rapid rise in imports had led nearly a tripling of container dwell times at the port. With inland warehouses full and a shortage of truck drivers, containers that had been held at the Port of Savannah’s Garden City Terminal for four to five days before pickup in previous years began waiting for 11 to 12 days. This affected the port’s ability to unload incoming ships and process new containers. As unloading ships were delayed, the impact continued to ripple, requiring incoming ships to be held off the coast until berth space could open up. In September 2021, between 20 and 30 vessels a day were held offshore, waiting for space. This, in turn, delayed shipments by U.S. exporters, which struggled to find empty containers for loading products.

The port called HDR to develop an implementation and funding strategy. Less than three months later, the first temporary yard opened to temporarily house the backlog of containers, funded with $8 million awarded by the White House in November 2021. Assisted by the port’s Class I rail providers, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern, three existing intermodal rail yards in Atlanta, northwest Georgia and Rocky Mount, North Carolina have now been modified to accept new containers. Intermodal trains up to 10,000 feet long can depart the Port of Savannah with up to 300 containers each for these yards up to 360 miles away, replacing over-the-road truck shipments and cutting delivery transit times.

In addition, two local truck-served yards have been created, serving Savannah as well as Statesboro, about 60 miles away. Containers are trucked to these sites in late evening and non-peak hours to minimize disruptions to traffic. Together with the rail yards, these new facilities add an annual capacity of 410,000 TEUs to the port, the equivalent of 21 “mega-ships” each holding 19,600 TEUs.

Improved Delivery Times, Safety and Efficiency

The Georgia Ports Authority and the customers it serves have already seen multiple benefits of implementing pop-up yards.

A month after the first yard opened, Georgia Ports Authority had reduced the number of stored containers at the Port of Savannah by nearly 25 percent, regaining operating capacity and cutting the backlog of ships waiting for berth space from 31 vessels in mid-October to six. Other benefits include:

  • Less stored cargo at the seaport terminal, allowing the Port of Savannah to regain maximum throughput capability for import and export goods and eliminating the need to regulate cargo unloading
  • Reduced berth occupancy time of vessels
  • Improved supply chain consistency and predictability for export products, lowering costs and improving delivery times
  • Reduced container storage fees, further lowering supply chain costs for import and export customers
  • Reduced truck use per container shipment, as long-distance rail intermodal replaces over-the-road truck moves
  • Improved highway safety and reduced highway congestion. The Atlanta yard alone means avoiding 500 roundtrip truck miles per container, with anticipated continued volumes of about 1,200 containers per month.

As freight volumes remain high, the port plans to continue use of the pop-up yards as long as needed, but their temporary nature also means they can be discontinued if volumes fall.

stack of shipping containers
Georgia Ports Authority

Savannah, GA
United States