SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – It’s been a supply chain nightmare, but Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg says the Georgia Ports Authority is leading the way to help solve it.
Buttigieg got a first-hand look at the Port of Savannah Friday as he touted the new infrastructure bill. And while containers are constantly being unloaded, some are still stacking up.
Yet it’s nothing compared to mid-October.
“We’re seeing conditions certainly a lot better than what was feared a couple of months ago,” said Buttigieg
The number of long dwell containers (those that have been sitting at the port two weeks or longer) has dropped by about 50 percent. Much of that is due to “pop-up” container yards off-site.
Several pop-up sites have been established, including one at Norfolk Southern Railroad’s Dillard Yard, which is a few miles from the Port.
“Think of this as a big wide open flat storage space. We can put somewhere around 400 containers here from the Port that allows more space at the Port,” said Connor Spielmaker from Norfolk Southern Railroad.
The pop-ups are located in several other areas around the state.
“One of the reasons we are here is we think what the Georgia Ports has done could be a model for other places around the country,” said Buttigieg
The Department of Transportation allowed GPA to use $8 million to establish the pop-up program.
“What does it all mean and where is it going? Back in mid-October, we had 31 ships at anchor waiting to unload. Today, we’re down to six vessels,” said Griff Lynch, the executive director of Georgia Ports Authority.
Buttigieg said the backlog is definitely easing, and the administration is seeing “a remarkable reduction in some of these bottlenecks and many stores are telling us their inventory is higher than it was a year ago.”
Still, Buttigieg says he knows some retailers, especially smaller ones, may still be waiting. He says this isn’t a problem that can be solved overnight but one the Biden administration has taken seriously.
“Demand is through the roof and supply is racing to keep up. That reflects economic growth but it creates its own challenges and its own problem like those shipping delays,” said Buttigieg. “And I’m so impressed with the creativity that has gone into solving some of those issues, reducing the amount of time that containers sit here at the Ports, for example.”
Buttigieg also defended the Biden administration amid more Republican criticism about inflation, saying, “this is largely a consequence of the economy coming back so quickly.”
“We’re seeing levels of unemployment that have literally not been this low in my lifetime, and to have that kind of whiplash after what our economy went through last year is obviously going to have a lot of complex effects,” said Buttigieg.
He said this is why President Joe Biden is putting for the Build Back Better bill, which cuts costs on things that can be controlled.
Buttigieg said the supply chain problems are still being dealt with and there will continue to be issues. He thanked employees at the Port of Savannah for their work in keeping containers moving.
“And I think that reflects just how important ports work and what goes on right here in Savannah really is,” Buttigieg said.