CHATSWORTH, Ga. – Promising to remove 50,000 truckloads from Georgia highways, state officials signed an agreement Tuesday to develop a rail-truck terminal to serve shippers in North Georgia and neighboring states with a more convenient route to the port of Savannah 350 miles away.

The so-called inland port in this small, mountain community is the second in what is planned to be a statewide network of terminals designed to make rail more convenient to shippers. The first is in Cordele. Besides providing an alternative to existing freight, the network is also envisioned as a lure to manufacturers.

Gov. Nathan Deal said the Chatsworth terminal and the potential jobs it could bring is part of the payoff that legislators were promised when they voted to appropriate $266 million in bonds to fund the state’s share of deepening the shipping channel of the Savannah River.

“The message we delivered to legislators who really did not, perhaps, know what the port of Savannah did for our state was this: the port of Savannah is the key to prosperity for the entire state of Georgia,” he told the dignitaries assembled for the ceremony. “Today’s step is a further ratification of that vision and that goal.”

Chambers of commerce and other industry recruiters in the area have already been talking up the terminal as a way to entice manufacturers to bring jobs to the state. And executives from the Volkswagen assembly plant in nearby Chattanooga, Tenn., were interested enough to attend Tuesday’s ceremony.

State taxpayers will put $10 million into development of the Chatsworth project. The Georgia Ports Authority, which will operate it, is putting in another $7.5 million it has earned from port fees. Murray County is investing $1 million in the 42-acre site, and CSX Corporation is putting in $5.5 million.

Asked why Republicans like Deal and the legislative leaders would have the state develop the facility instead of private industry, the governor said it was a partnership.

“I think it is one of the better examples of a public-private partnership that benefits everybody,” he said.

Operating the facility will take perhaps a dozen or so workers. It isn’t a new endeavor for the Ports Authority which already runs a larger train yard in Savannah that handled 360,000 containers last year and serves both CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads, said Curtis Foltz, the authority’s executive director.

He said Norfolk Southern was in discussions about the Chatsworth facility, but no site could be found that could serve both railroads in Northwest Georgia. CSX already runs through Chatsworth, but Norfolk Southern has a large terminal in Rome, about an hour away. The proximity is still close enough to stimulate competition that shippers in the region can benefit from, experts say.

“It’s important to recognize that this is about economic development in this region. It’s about better transportation solutions throughout the state of Georgia,” Foltz said. “…And it’s about keeping Georgia No. 1 in the country in terms of infrastructure solutions and transportation solutions.”

Named the Appalachian Regional Port, the facility is expected to begin operations in 2018. Officials did not offer a timetable on the development of the handful of other inland ports a state study recommended.

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