The Mojave Desert may not seem like the answer to helping West Coast ports bursting at the seams with growing container volumes, but a proposed inland complex could be the solution to congestion at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The Mojave Inland Port the project recently received site plan approval from officials in California to move forward with a logistics hub that is meant to be a critical safety valve for West Coast gateways choked with container traffic.

“The main reason for the congestion is that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are running out of land, and the Los Angeles Basin as a whole is running out of land for major logistics centers,” said Richard Kellogg, chairman of Pioneer Partners. FreightWaves.

Houston-based Pioneer Partners is developing the Mojave Inland Port on about 400 acres of land the firm already owns 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The Inland Port of Mojave is slated to become a container hub that will receive cargo by rail from Los Angeles and Long Beach and transfer it to trucks for further distribution across the country.

Kellogg said an inland port can save shippers time and money by moving their containers promptly, instead of sitting at shipping or rail yards for days or weeks waiting to be transported.

“Ten years ago, the average time a large container ship was in port was maybe 100 hours. Now it’s more than 300 hours, and those ships can cost $200,000 a day,” Kellogg said. “For cost reasons alone, we think it makes sense to take the containers off the ships, put them on a train, take them by rail three hours to Mojave and send them to their final destination.”

An unprecedented number of containers are waiting at the ports of Southern California

Greg Miller of FreightWaves recently reported that Gene Serocca, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said that one of the main reasons for the port’s congestion is the number of containers are waiting transport from ports.

“The Port of Los Angeles currently has more than 33,700 freight containers on its docks for rail transport. In a more normal time, this number should be around 9,000,” said Siroka.

The Port of Los Angeles, America’s largest container port, relieved In 2021, the busiest calendar year in the port’s 115-year history, trade volume was $294 billion, and a total of 10.7 million container units, about 6.4 million loaded twenty-foot units, were handled.

The Port of Long Beach also installed a a new record in 2021, moving 9.38 million TEUs, a 15.7% increase over the previous record of over 8.11 million TEUs moved in 2020.

Year-to-date, both ports have seen no decline in container traffic, with Los Angeles and Long Beach posting record highs container movements in July and maintaining high volumes in August.

Import volumes continue to look strong as we approach the end of August at the ports of Los Angeles (blue line) and Long Beach (green line). Chart taken from the FreightWaves SONAR platform. To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.

The Mojave Inland Port plans to have the capacity to handle up to 3,600 trucks per day and 3 million containers per year once it is operational.

Kellogg said he has discussed in detail with officials from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach how his project could help solve supply chain problems.

“Both ports are very interested in what we’re doing, and both ports are very encouraging,” Kellogg said.

Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said he supports the Mojave Inland Port project.

“Surrounded by the densely populated urban areas of Long Beach and South Los Angeles, available real estate is limited,” Cardero said in statement. “The Mojave Inland Port is the type of innovative solution that will ease congestion and allow dockers to do their jobs more efficiently, getting goods to businesses and consumers faster.”

The Mojave Inland Port will be a rail safety valve

The Mojave Inland Port site will offer truck, rail and air freight options. The site is located near the village Mojave Air and Space Porta fully operational airport with a 12,500-foot runway capable of handling large commercial cargo aircraft.

The Union Pacific rail line passes through this section on its Alameda to Mojave Corridor route from San Pedro Bay to the Port of Long Beach. Union Pacific officials said they have been in contact with Pioneer Partners, but declined to comment on any agreements or whether they would need to build additional rail lines or infrastructure for the inland port project.

“Union Pacific is in discussions with project proponents and looks forward to hearing more about consumer demand,” Susan Stevens, a spokeswoman for Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific, told FreightWaves in an email.

The project got a boost on Aug. 9 when officials in Kern County, home to the inland port, issued permits for its zoning and site plans.

The next step for the desert port is for Pioneer Partners to work with Kern County officials to obtain building permits, with groundbreaking planned for next year. The desert port is planned to be fully operational in 2024.

“Now that we have the permits in place, we’ve begun detailed design and we’ve started conversations with a number of beneficiary cargo owner companies (BCOs), and we’re continuing conversations with Los Angeles and Long Beach leaders and elected officials. ” Kellogg said.

The Mojave Inland Port will likely handle containers carrying consumer goods coming from Asia, which account for about 40% of the cargo that passes through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“Our proposal to BCO is not that they put a distribution center in Mojave, they obviously can if they want to,” Kellogg said. “But we think we can serve them better by saying, ‘We’ll take your containers, process them in Mojave and send them to the distribution centers you already have.’

Kellogg also said the project, estimated to cost about $75 million, would be privately funded.

“We’re not looking for federal or state money or foreign sources,” Kellogg said.

Pioneer Partners purchased the 400-acre Mojave site back in 1991 and held it for more than 30 years, waiting for the right opportunity.

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