One train in, one train out: Officials field community concerns about upcoming Inland Port

By Christian Ashliman Anchor/Reporter
Posted 3:00PM on Wednesday 18th October 2023 ( 7 months ago )

Officials with the Georgia Ports Authority and Hall County heard from concerned citizens Tuesday as construction of the Northeast Georgia Inland Port inches closer.

As the 104-acre Inland Port project north of Gainesville nears a day when construction could begin, many citizens have expressed concern over various aspects, ranging from traffic increases to the environmental impact.

The GPA and officials with Hall County met Tuesday night with the community at large in hopes of remedying those concerns.

“There is an import and export balance of cargo that can consolidate to a train and effectively get trucks off of the highway for a large portion of distance that they traveled to or from a port,” GPA Chief Administrative Officer Jamie McCurry said to a crowd of several hundred.

Residents from the area and beyond gathered in the gymnasium of Air Line Baptist Church, where poster boards lined the walls showcasing current plans for the port.

The Northeast Georgia Inland Port will offset a 600-mile truck roundtrip and reportedly decongest major highways and thoroughfares around the Peach State, according to the GPA. Connected directly with the Port of Savannah, the Hall County port will allow the mass transportation of goods, which officials believe will significantly boost the Northeast Georgia economy.

“The reason that these facilities are connected so much to Savannah — Savannah actually has the largest container terminal in the Western Hemisphere and a lot of people are kind of surprised to hear that because Savannah is not that big of a city,” McCurry said. “Savannah is the southeast hub for trade to and from ships or container ships.”

The average train length slated to be in and out of the local port is 3,000 feet. Once road improvements and adjustments are completed in the region surrounding the port, there will be approximately 4,000 feet of space between the rail crossing at White Sulphur Road and the terminal entrance, McCurry said.

Two roads will see major improvements and realignments ahead of the port’s completion.

A portion of White Sulphur Road is set to be realigned and renamed to Cagle Road along a stretch between the Kubota facility and Air Line Baptist Church. 

Existing portions of Cagle Road are set to receive major improvements as well.

Multiple community members from that area expressed concerns over emergency access points into neighborhoods along the current White Sulphur Road, especially if there are ever train backups blocking egress and ingress routes.

“We've worked with our Public Works staff and different partners to modify the road infrastructure in that area to realign White Sulphur and to improve Cagle Road so that we can continue to have access for emergency purposes,” Hall County Administrator Zach Propes said.

Another concern a citizen voiced was whether crates coming from Savannah would be appropriately labeled if they housed harmful chemicals. McCurry noted that all crates traveling through the port would be labeled appropriately, so in the event of a train derailment, responders can know what is being carried without having to cut crates open.

One issue raised by many had to do with water runoff from the inland port site, which officials said shouldn’t be a problem as their plans detail a retention pond on the property.

As has been a concern by many citizens throughout all discussions regarding the inland port, traffic congestion issues were raised during Tuesday night’s meeting as well. However, such concerns were answered with a similar refrain from officials, citing the fact that semi-trucks are already prevalent in the area, and people may in fact see fewer trucks as the inland port will negate the Savannah-to-Gainesville long-haul.

District 3 Commissioner Gregg Poole noted that a major contributor to the increase in traffic seen in Hall stems from new schools and new housing developments — driven by a growing population seen through much of Northeast Georgia.

Funding for the port will arrive from several different sources.

“We [Hall County] have the money and the budget, everything earmarked, the money for the road improvements — we've got,” Poole said. “The DOT [Department of Transportation] has given us $1 for every dollar we put in … the port gave us four and a half million dollars .. and we have some grant money coming from the federal government.”

Another concern brought forward had to do with the train load seen at the port on a daily basis. Both Poole and McCurry reiterated several times that the port would open with a load of one train in, and one train out per day.

As the port will now provide Georgia and major regions across the south with quicker and more efficient trade lines, Poole stated that Hall County will now boast more pull in negotiations for state route improvements, especially along Ga. 365.

Following the town hall Tuesday night, Habersham County Commissioner Bruce Palmer provided comments on how the port will not only benefit Hall County but bolster the economy in Habersham as well.

“I think it’s going to have an effect on the whole region,” Palmer said. “As far as benefiting Habersham County, there may be a lot cold storage facilities or warehousing or distribution that will help to add to the industrial part of our tax base.”

Palmer also went on to reiterate concerns heard from citizens in Habersham County.

“I think a lot of folks don't realize a lot of these trucks are already here,” Palmer said. “They're just driving from Savannah to here right now, instead of just coming to Hall County and getting loaded and going back, so I think even though we will have an increase in one respect, we will probably have a decrease in another.”

The Northeast Georgia Inland Port is set to start construction in 2024 with an operating date planned for sometime in 2026.

When the cranes start lifting and trains start rolling, the port will add approximately 20 new jobs to the area, with an unknown number of jobs potentially added overall from the predicted economic growth.

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