Containers are placed on train cars at the Long Beach Container Terminal's railyard, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. The terminal boasts some 70,000 linear feet of track. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

As supply chain congestion continues to wreak havoc across the country, California’s first inland port is working its way through the Kern County permitting processes, with site plans zoned and approved and building permits on the way.

On Aug. 9, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to issue a proclamation in support of Pioneer Partners’ Mojave Inland Port. The 400-acre facility will be just outside the city of Mojave where State Routes 14 and 58 meet, 90 miles from the San Pedro Bay ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles.

While the two highways make the facility easily accessible by truck, the Union Pacific Railroad runs directly through the site. The port also will be directly adjacent to the Mojave Air & Space Port, meaning cargo can be easily moved by road, rail and air—and space should the need arise.

After being offloaded at the San Pedro Bay ports, containers would be transported by shuttle trains along the underutilized Alameda corridor, directly to Mojave. This will result in an economic benefit of more than $100 million along the Alameda Corridor, according to Pioneer.

The facility is expected to provide an annual economic benefit of half a billion dollars, locally and statewide, the company added.

“This one-of-a-kind project will help unsnarl the congestion in the twin ports,” Richard Kellogg, chair of Pioneer Partners, said in a statement. “It will help the national economy by reducing pressure on the supply chain; it will help the local economy through job creation. Goods will get to businesses and consumers faster and more efficiently.”

Individually, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the first and second busiest container ports in the U.S., respectively. Combined, after each set numerous monthly records, the ports moved over 20.8 million 20-foot-equivalent units (the standard measure of a shipping container), more than any other year in their more than a century-long history.

Despite a historic 2021, the ports have continued to set monthly records throughout this year. In fact, with ever-increasing e-commerce, port executives anticipate cargo volumes to continue to increase into the next decade. Goods-movement experts project container volumes at San Pedro Bay to increase to 34 million by 2030, Pioneer stated.

A site map of the Mojave Inland Port. Courtesy of Pioneer Partners.

Crews are expected to break ground on the inland port next year, with it being fully operational in 2024.

As it is, the twin ports have experienced unprecedented backlogs of ships and containers for nearly two years. According to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, the backlog of ships officially began on Oct. 15, 2020, and reached a peak of 109 in January of this year.

On Wednesday, the backlog reached a record low of nine, the Marine Exchange reported.

Similarly, the number of containers dwelling for extended periods on dock has fluctuated wildly since the backlog began. The problem got so bad that the ports announced a new fee in October 2021 for containers that sat for too long, though the fee has yet to be enacted.

The number of containers languishing on dock is now 29% below where it was when the fee was first announced, according to port data.

“We are very good at ship-to-shore movement—getting the containers on and off the vessel,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero told the Business Journal. “What we need to work on is continuing that momentum of velocity through the terminal and out of the region.”

Both of the San Pedro Bay ports have emphasized the need for increased rail capacity, which is a more efficient and more environmentally friendly way of moving containers compared to trucks. Each agency has undertaken numerous capital improvement projects to increase rail capacity, with Long Beach’s long-awaited centerpiece, the Pier B On-Dock Rail Support Facility, moving closer to reality.

The combination of increased rail capacity at the ports and a new inland port facility that can handle upward of 3 million TEUs annually would greatly increase the velocity of container movement, Cordero said. From the inland port, goods will then be more quickly disseminated to their final destinations.

“Crisis brings opportunities,” Cordero said. “This crisis of supply chain constraints and how people now recognize how vital it is to have a resilient and fluid supply chain, has really elevated some ideas, one of them being inland ports.”

Pioneer’s announcement of the port noted that the Mojave Air & Space Port is open 24/7, indicating the new inland port could be looking at similar operating hours, Cordero said. For years, Cordero has been an advocate for the ports to transition to 24/7 operations for numerous reasons, not least of which is that most Asian ports, which account for the lion’s share of goods coming into the San Pedro Bay ports, already operate with those hours.

While he would ultimately like to see all port operations working around the clock, Cordero acknowledged that rail is the easiest aspect to make the transition, as it requires far less personnel than moving containers one at a time by truck.

“It also coincides with … our quest for zero emissions and our parallel approach to reduce truck traffic,” Cordero said. “Rail serves a dual function: velocity … and continuing with environmental stewardship.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.