Supremacy among the several commercial ports along the Southeast region has been largely tied to deeper waters for handling larger cargo vessels from an expanded Panama Canal.

Now, the competition for more market share in the highly-competitive region is looking hundreds of miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a new inland port agreement this week with the Georgia Ports Authority and Cordele Intermodal Services to expand international shipping service in the region. The agreement ensures a direct 200-mile rail route to and from GPA’s Garden City Terminal in Savannah and a 40-acre rail yard in Cordele, a city along the Interstate 75 corridor and roughly 70 miles south of Macon.

Georgia’s plan was inked fewer than two months before the September opening of the South Carolina State Ports Authority’s inland port in Greer, where shipping containers will be transferred between trucks and Norfolk Southern rail cars running to and from the Port of Charleston. It’s expected to take tens of thousands of trucks off state roads and highways each year.

Georgia officials downplayed any direct competitive connections with South Carolina’s inland port, noting GPA’s operation targets southern parts of Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

South Carolina officials agreed.

“In our view, inland ports represent an important step in building out international intermodal-related infrastructure,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the S.C. State Ports Authority. “These facilities will serve different markets. The Greer facility is along the I-85 corridor, which is the fastest-growing region of the Southeast. It will serve both an existing cargo base in the South Carolina Upstate as well as companies in western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia and the Midwest.”

Georgia’s plan simply follows a growing trend among port operators across the country, said Kent Gourdin, director of global logistics and transportation programs at the College of Charleston.

“It’s becoming very popular,” Gourdin said. “Other ports have done the same thing like Los Angeles and others. It’s a way to make your port more marketable.”

North Carolina Ports Authority has an inland port in Charlotte, and Virginia Ports Authority partnered with Norfolk Southern to offer a double-stack rail service between intermodal terminals in Norfolk, Va., and Greensboro, N.C.

“The inland port extends the reach of the ports authority,” Gourdin said.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 843-937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.