Sustained record-setting cargo moving between the Upstate and the Charleston waterfront has the State Ports Authority looking to expand its Greer transportation hub, with the rail-served site bumping against capacity fewer than eight years after its debut.
The $28 expansion will include more space to stack containers, track improvements, a bigger chassis yard and construction of a third rail line where Norfolk Southern freight trains can be marshaled before they’re loaded.
The work will accommodate longer trains traveling to and from the Port of Charleston. The SPA also plans to build new facilities for terminal operations and the maintenance of cranes and other heavy equipment.
Part of the expansion will be funded from about half of the proceeds from a $25 million federal grant. The rest will come from port revenues.
“This will greatly enhance South Carolina’s supply chain for companies in the Upstate and beyond,” Bill Stern, chairman of the SPA’s board, said in a statement.
Inland ports are becoming important distribution hubs around the country as cargo volume grows and consumers demand faster deliveries of online purchases.
The rail-served sites can help relieve traffic congestion by taking trucks off highways and provide shippers with a transportation alternative during the current traffic shortage.
The amount of cargo moving by rail to and from the Port of Charleston has doubled over the past decade and now accounts for about one-fourth of all containers.
Manufacturers such as tiremakers Michelin and Bridgestone and the BMW automotive plant in Spartanburg County use the Greer inland port along Interstate 85 to move raw materials, parts and finished products to and from Charleston.
The Upstate inland port had its busiest-ever month in March, handling 16,688 containers for a 20.3 percent increase over last year. The facility moved 119,460 containers during the first nine months of this fiscal year, which ends June 30 — nearly 5 percent better than last year.
A study by the University of South Carolina shows the manufacturing-heavy Upstate benefits more from the Port of Charleston than any other region of the Palmetto State. More than 116,500 jobs in that region are related to port activities that generate $32.8 billion in annual economic benefit — slightly more than half of the SPA’s statewide benefit.
Knudt Flor, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing, said the automaker’s $11 billion plant in Greer exports 70 percent of the vehicles it makes through the Port of Charleston, adding the nearby inland port “has proved incredibly beneficial to our supply chain.”
BMW is the nation’s biggest exporter of finished vehicles by value, sending nearly $9 billion worth of X-model SUVs and coupes to 125 foreign countries last year.
Jim Newsome, the SPA’s chief executive, called Greer’s inland port “a true success story for South Carolina, growing significantly every year since opening.”
The Upstate site is about 212 miles from Charleston’s port terminals and is within a one-day truck trip from 94 million consumers in the Southeast and Midwest. The SPA opened of a second inland port in Dillon in April 2018 to move freight along the Interstate 95 corridor.