The Mojave Desert might not seem like a solution to help West Coast ports bursting at the seams from surging container volumes, but a proposed inland complex could be the answer for congestion at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
The Mojave Inland Port project recently received site plan approval from officials in California to move forward with a transportation and logistics hub aimed at being a critical relief valve for West Coast gateways choking with container traffic.
“The root cause of the congestion is that the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have run out of land, and the Los Angeles Basin in general has run out of land for big logistics centers,” Richard Kellogg, chair of Pioneer Partners, told 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 plan is for the Mojave Inland Port to be a container hub that will receive cargo by rail from Los Angeles and Long Beach and transfer it to trucks for further nationwide distribution.
Kellogg said the inland port could save shippers time and money by moving their containers expeditiously, instead of sitting in ship or rail yards for days or weeks waiting to be transported.
“Ten years ago, the average time in a port for a big container ship was maybe 100 hours. Now it’s over 300 hours, and these ships can cost $200,000 a day,” Kellogg said. “For reasons of cost alone, we think that it makes sense to take containers off of ships, put them on a train, rail them three hours to the Mojave and dispatch them to their final location.”
Unprecedented number of containers waiting at Southern California ports
FreightWaves’ Greg Miller recently reported that Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said one of the major causes of port congestion is the number of containers waiting to be transported from the ports.
“We’ve now got more than 33,700 cargo containers designated for rail sitting on Port of Los Angeles docks. In more normal times, that number should be about 9,000,” Seroka said.
The Port of Los Angeles, America’s largest container port, facilitated $294 billion in trade and handled a total of 10.7 million container units, about 6.4 million loaded twenty-foot equivalent units, in 2021, the busiest calendar year in the port’s 115-year history.
The Port of Long Beach also set a new record in 2021 by moving 9.38 million cargo containers, a 15.7% increase from the previous record of more than 8.11 million TEUs moved in 2020.
Both ports have not seen any letup in container traffic since the beginning of the year, with Los Angeles and Long Beach reporting record container movements in July and continued strong volumes in August.
The Mojave Inland Port is planning to have the capacity to handle up to 3,600 trucks a day and 3 million containers per year once operational.
Kellogg said he has been in detailed discussions with officials from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach about how his project can help solve supply chain problems.
“Both ports are very interested in what we’re doing and both ports have been very encouraging,” Kellogg said.
Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said he supports the Mojave Inland Port project.
“Being surrounded by the dense urban areas of Long Beach and South Los Angeles, there is limited real estate available,” Cordero said in a statement. “The Mojave Inland Port is the type of innovative solution that will alleviate congestion and allow dockworkers to do their jobs more efficiently, getting goods to businesses and consumers faster.”
Mojave Inland Port will be a rail relief valve
The Mojave Inland Port site will offer truck, rail and air cargo transportation options. The site is located adjacent to the Mojave Air and Space Port, a fully operational airport with a 12,500-foot runway, capable of accommodating large commercial cargo planes.
A Union Pacific rail line runs through the site. Officials for Union Pacific said they have been in contact with Pioneer Partners, but declined to comment on any agreements or whether they would need to build any additional rail lines or infrastructure for the inland port project.
“Union Pacific is in discussion with the project proponents and looks forward to learning more about customer demand,” Susan Stevens, a spokeswoman for Omaha, Nebraska-based Union Pacific, said in an email to FreightWaves.
The project received a boost on Aug. 9 when officials in Kern County, where the inland port site is located, 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 secure building permits, with a groundbreaking scheduled for next year. The desert port is scheduled to become fully operational in 2024.
“Now that we have the permits, we’ve started detailed engineering and we have also started conversations with a number of beneficial cargo owner (BCO) companies, and now we’re continuing conversations with Los Angeles and Long Beach and leaders and elected officials,” Kellogg said.
The Mojave Inland Port will most likely service containers transporting consumer goods coming from Asia, which represents as much as 40% of the freight that travels through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
“Our proposal for BCOs is not that they locate a distribution center in Mojave, they can if they want to, obviously,” Kellogg said. “But we think we can serve them better by saying, ‘We’ll accept your containers, handle them in the Mojave and dispatch them to distribution centers that you already have.’”
Kellogg also said the project, which is estimated to cost about $75 million, will be financed privately.
“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 has held onto it for more than 30 years, waiting for the right opportunity to arrive.
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