Originally created 04/22/00

Port work subsidies will pay off



SAVANNAH -- Transportation expert Stephen Rutner says money spent on improving Savannah's port end up flowing directly into the wallets of local merchants, employees and tax coffers.

Essentially, for every $1 spent on improvements to the port, Savannah's economy reaps $1.51 in benefits, according to his nearly completed statewide transportation study.

The immediate impact of the port-related projects comes from the workers living in the community and spending their wages.

Mr. Rutner, an assistant professor for logistics and intermodal transportation at Georgia Southern University, conducted the statewide study of transportation infrastructure construction costs. His goal was to determine the economic impact of such projects for Georgians For Better Transportation, a Tucker, Ga.-based nonprofit transportation advocacy group.

To conduct his study, Mr. Rutner collected transportation project costs and applied these statistics to a formula that determines the total economic impact.

In Savannah, Mr. Rutner said, recently completed and budgeted projects involving the port should add an additional $92.6 million and more than 1,000 new jobs annually to the local economy.

More than 80,000 jobs across Georgia are connected to the port's activities, said Patricia Reese, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Ports Authority. The authority's activities bring in revenues of more than $23 billion with an income of $1.8 billion and contributing $585 million to state and local taxes.

Major improvements the Ports Authority is working on include a $104 million container berth, the eighth for the authority, and a $12 million intermodal container transfer facility. The intermodal facility is designed to increase the speed and ease with which containers are moved from ships to trains.

"If you don't do these improvements, then Savannah is at a considerable disadvantage to Charleston," Mr. Rutner said.

The proposed port deepening project, though, was not included. Because this project's future is still in doubt, Mr. Rutner said it was left out of his study's calculations. The authority wants to deepen the shipping channel from 42 feet to as much as 48 feet to accommodate deeper draft ships.

These types of investments are only one-time expenditures, Mr. Rutner says, but they keep on giving for decades. After the construction is paid for, the new temporary and permanent employees will continue spending money in town.

Mr. Rutner also said the positive effects of the container berth and intermodal facility should be felt statewide. Both are designed to alleviate congestion at the port, which should reduce costs for the port's users -- ships, trains and trucks.