Georgia Ports Authority says it needs a new bridge in the Hostess City to maximize the economic impact of the Savannah Harbor Expansion project, which is 50 percent complete.

That bombshell was dropped during the annual State of the Port address delivered inside the International Trade & Convention Center on Hutchinson Island.

Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) Executive Director, Griff Lynch, revealed the deepening of the shipping channel is not enough to open up the port to “next-generation” container ships that are expected to become more common on the east coast in the next decade.

Lynch says the time is now to be ready to continue growth at the Port of Savannah.

“We are going to start a process, we’re going to work closely with the Georgia Department of Transportation and we hope to work closely with the General Assembly to start planning the relief of the Talmadge Bridge,” said Lynch. “I say relief lightly, really, the replacement because that is what needs to happen over the coming ten years to ensure that when these ships come, we will be ready.”

The plan is to roll out the welcome mat to ships even larger than the COSCO Development, which is the biggest cargo container ship ever to sail into the Chatham County port. It dropped off containers here last year. 

COSCO Development can carry more than 13,000 containers and barely cleared the Talmadge Bridge, which provides 185 feet (56 m) of vertical navigational clearance for oceangoing vessels.

That’s not tall enough to accommodate super-ships under construction right now.

Lynch says once those bigger ships are sailing, they’ll carry more than 20,000 containers, but GPA cannot capitalize on that market under current conditions. 

“We have a challenge though, we have a bridge that can’t handle this ship,”  Lynch said.  He added the port needs more vertical clearance than the current bridge offers, making it a roadblock to growing the port’s business, but past success with challenges facing port growth fuels his confidence that they can meet this challenge and prevail. 

“Over the past twenty-five years, Georgia Ports has always stepped up to the plate.  We have always recognized the impediments to growth and faced them head on and that’s exactly what we’re going to do here,” said Lynch.  He did not share cost estimates and the only timeline laid out was the bridge replacement needs to be in place in a decade.  

Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach shared his thoughts on the proposal.

“We’ve been talking about needing an additional bridge to raise up on the far end of the City of Savannah, so we feel like it’s a necessity to do that long-term anyway,” said DeLoach. “So I’m thinking long-term, it’s going to be a great plan and I think it’s something that if we don’t start planning today, it won’t happen in the next ten year.”

DeLoach priced the Talmadge Bridge replacement in the neighborhood of $250-300 million.