ICYMI: Transportation Secretary Buttigieg Visits Port of Savannah, Touts President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

December 20, 2021

On Friday, December 17, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg traveled to Savannah to discuss the Biden-Harris administration’s aggressive efforts to relieve stresses on our nation’s supply chain system and highlight how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will expand and support the Georgia Port Authority. Secretary Buttigieg’s visit follows Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s trip to Atlanta last Tuesday.

Read more about Secretary Buttgieg’s visit to Savannah:

Savannah Morning News: Transportation Sec. Buttigieg visits Savannah Port as supply chain congestion eases

  • During U.S. Dept. of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s tour of the Port of Savannah, the months-long strain on the supply chain was evident.
  • Electric cranes loaded 40-foot shipping containers off a shipping carrier; trucks honked as they rounded corners framed by stacks of containers piled 50 feet into the air; tools to build the new terminal berth spewed mud and river into the air as men in hardhats swarmed the construction site. 
  • “If you hear about strains in the supply chain, it’s not because workers or ports, especially in a place like Savannah, are slowing down,” Buttigieg said at a press conference Friday afternoon. “Quite the contrary. They are moving the most we have ever seen move. It’s just that the demand is so far off the charts that it’s going to take even more to keep up.”
  • On Friday, Buttigieg was accompanied by Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch, Chatham County Chairman Chester Ellis, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and ILA representative Willie Seymour during his press conference at the Garden City Terminal. After the tour and press conference, the men were joined by U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Chatham, White House official Sameera Fazili and Georgia Dept. of Transportation Commissioner Arthur Tripp for a private roundtable discussion with retail and business owners. 
  • Savannah’s port has experienced sustained record-breaking growth over the past two years, leading to billions of dollars in expansions, infrastructure improvements and hiring sprees to meet the demand of increased consumer shopping. 
  • “We cannot only make up for lost time investing in our ports and waterways and our roads and bridges and our rail and transit, but also get ready for the growth opportunity in the future,” Buttigieg said.
  • Buttigieg visited the port to view the expansion projects — including the new Mason Mega Rail — and discuss how the newly passed bipartisan infrastructure bill will further alleviate backlogs and high demand at the ports and related sites. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill will funnel billions into improvements for ports, roadways, railroads and airports to improve travel and supply chain congestion.
  • The funding comes in addition to $8 million in reallocated federal funds that helped establish “pop-up container yards” in Georgia and North Carolina, which were envisioned as a way to free up terminal space at the Savannah Port, where shipping containers are stacked 10-high in spots. Buttigieg said the pop-up yards and other improvements by the GPA should be an example for other U.S. ports.
  • The transportation secretary also outlined a few programs the U.S. DOT is pursuing related to the trucking industry, including increasing recruitment and retention for the essential service. Nationwide, there is a shortage of 80,000 truck drivers and 300,000 truckers leave the field every year. Buttigieg said his department is working with unions and private businesses to “clear the red tape” around licensing and training to bring in new truck drivers, while retaining the stringent safety protocols that are required of people driving commercial vehicles. 
  • “This is crucially important for the entire supply chain,” Buttigieg said. “In order for these goods to efficiently move to where they need to go, we need to have the right kind of trucking workforce. But we don’t have the capacity that we need right now…”
  • As the ports expand and the government doles out trillions in funding through grant programs, the impact on workers must not be ignored, according to Buttigieg. 
  • “We’ve got to make sure that we’re continuing to grow economic opportunity with jobs, but, importantly, good-paying jobs,” he said. 
  • Buttigieg added that Pres. Joe Biden’s administration is working to increase unions and other support networks for the skilled labor jobs, such as the ILA, vital to keeping the supply chain running. 
  • Buttigieg said he and the president will continue to advocate for union jobs, especially in states such as Georgia, which is one of the least-unionized states in the nation. 
  • These are workers who don’t get to work from home, you can’t Zoom into your job at the Port of Savannah or when you’re driving a truck. We need to support them,” Buttigieg said. “And I think unions are an important part of that support structure.”
  • The ILA has three chapters that work at the Port of Savannah. President Willie Seymour said his workers “never stopped during the pandemic,” and were vital to reducing the port’s backlog from 32 ships to six ships in less than two months’ time. 
  • “I want you to know that the GPA and ILA stood strong amongst this,” Seymour said. “We never stopped.”

WSAV: Buttigieg: Georgia Ports Authority helping to solve supply chain backlog

  • 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.

WJCL: Sec. of Transportation Pete Buttigieg visits Savannah to discuss impact of pop-up container yards

  • The Georgia Ports Authority, U.S. Department of Transportation and others are all working together to alleviate congestion at the Port of Savannah.
  • On Friday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg paid a visit to the Hostess City to discuss the emergence of pop-up container yards in the area and how they’re helping to speed up the movement of cargo.
  • “One of the reasons we’re here is we think what the Georgia Ports Authority has done could be a model for other places across the country,” Sec. Buttigieg said.
  • A little over 10 minutes from the Port of Savannah, you’ll find a pop-up container yard run by Norfolk Southern.
  • Connor Spielmaker, a spokesperson for Norfolk Southern said, “This used to be a parking lot, but it is being used for the port. The port is using this as an extension of the port. As you can see, they’re bringing containers here to alleviate space concerns at the port.”
  • Pop-up yards like this have helped the Port of Savannah go from having 85,000 containers on their property at a time to around 65,000, according to the Georgia Ports Authority.
  • “It’s a way we can help alleviate that crunch at the port and the port can use this space to move containers out, bring containers in and really help them extend the capacity they have,” Spielmaker said.
  • Having fewer containers on their yard allows more ships to come and go from the Port of Savannah.
  • “Back in mid-October, we had 31 ships at anchor. Today, we’re down to six vessels. That means in the last 5 to 6 weeks we’ve knocked down 25 ships. That’s 4 to 6 vessels a week less,” said Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch. “So if we can continue on this pace, we will have zero before you know it and when we do, you will know it.”
  • Sec. Buttigieg said the pop-up container yards have been so successful, he wouldn’t be surprised if other ports across the country follow suit.
  • “I think it’s a great example of the kind of flexibility and creativity we’re seeing on the ground that we’re so pleased to support,” Sec. Buttigieg said.
  • Buttigieg added, however, that the work doesn’t end here. He said efforts are underway to address the shortage of truck drivers.
  • “We’re losing 300,000 truckers a year who leave the field entirely. Some of the largest employers, there’s a 90% turnover rate. Think about that. 90%,” Buttigieg said.
  • The Secretary of Transportation said the White House is working on an initiative called the ‘Truck Action Plan’ to address both recruitment and retention in the trucking industry.
  • “Recruiting frankly is filling a leaky bucket unless we do something about the retention side,” Buttigieg said.
  • Sec. Buttigieg said they’re looking at ways to make it easier for people to get into the trucking industry and are looking at improving hours and working conditions for truck drivers.
  • Buttigieg said, “Infrastructure is a workplace for America’s truckers. If that workplace doesn’t have bathrooms, who among us would be willing to sign up for a workplace that doesn’t have bathrooms or parking? Or if you have a situation we see in a lot of places where the truckers are there, the availability is there, but their time is not being used well because they have to wait hours to pick up or drop off their product, that’s something we can do something about and make sure they get paid for their time.”
  • Following Buttigieg’s visit to the Port of Savannah Friday, he attended a roundtable discussion with retailers and agricultural exporters.
  • In addition to discussing pop-up container yards and the truck-driver shortage, Buttigieg discussed on Friday a $46.8 million grant from the Department of Transportation that was awarded to the Georgia Ports Authority.
  • He said that money will help the GPA develop a new inland container port that will feature six railroad tracks and efficient gate facilities.
  • Sec. Buttigieg said this facility will reduce freight travel times by providing a direct freight rail link to the Port of Savannah.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Buttigieg vows to recruit more truckers in visit to Savannah port

  • In a visit to the Port of Savannah Friday, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg promised to push initiatives that will ease two crucial bottlenecks in the supply chain: the shortage of truckers and the lack of capacity at the nation’s shipping terminals.
  • On the ground in Georgia for just a few hours, Buttigieg toured the facility with officials of the Georgia Ports Authority and the International Longshoremen’s Association, which represents many of the workers who unload ships and move cargo around the terminal.
  • “One of the reasons we are here is that we think that what the Georgia ports have done could be a model for other places around the country,” Buttigieg said during a press conference in Savannah.
  • His department has already given the Georgia Ports Authority financial help aimed at relieving some of the congestion and is planning to offer more from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, he said.
  • The department this fall provided $8 million to the authority to help with opening four inland ports — including the Hulsey Yard in Atlanta owned by CSX rail — that are being used to store and distribute containers that had been part of the congestion at the Port of Savannah.


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