The Pier B On-Dock Support Facility will help expand the Port of Long Beach's capacity to handle a growing amount of cargo traffic. Courtesy of Port of Long Beach.

A long-awaited project at the Port of Long Beach is one step closer to reality.

The U.S. Maritime Administration issued its final environmental impact statement for the port’s proposed Pier B On-Dock Support Facility last week, allowing the port to claim federal funding for the project.

While the Maritime Administration awarded $52.3 million to the port for the project late last year, the funds could not be disbursed until the agency formally approved the project with its environmental impact statement.

“This allows us to receive those federal funds,” Port of Long Beach Managing Director of Engineering Sean Gamette said by phone, “so it’s a big green light.”

Now, the port will move forward with designing and searching for potential contractors for the construction of the facility and subsequent railway expansions. Construction, which will happen over several phases, is expected to begin next year. The first phase is scheduled to wrap up in 2025, and the final phase is set to finish in 2032, according to Gamette.

Plans for the Pier B On-Dock Support Facility, though, have been in the works for years. The Port of Long Beach released its own environmental impact report for the project in 2016, which the Board of Harbor Commissioners approved in 2018.

The cost of the project has grown in that time, from $870 million in 2018 to $1.5 billion as of February. Gamette said most of the increases have occurred since the pandemic hit. Construction costs, for example, are $250 million higher, while real estate costs have doubled, he said.

The goal of the project is to make the movement of cargo both more efficient and more sustainable by reducing truck traffic and the emissions that come with it.

On the efficiency front, the Pier B On-Dock Support Facility will be able to accommodate the larger trains of today’s era. Gamette said that operators hope to run trains that are over 3.75 miles long—a far cry from the trains considered to be the norm 20 years ago, when “a mile long on-dock train was something to talk about,” Gamette said—and the port needs a facility to support this.

As for sustainability, port officials have said that one double stacked train can replace 2,000 truck trips. The significant improvement in air quality that comes with less road traffic is one of the reasons the Port of Long Beach is prioritizing rail so heavily.

“If we were to coin one specific reason” for the project, Gamette said, “it would be to be more efficient with respect to cargo movement, and [being] environmentally friendly at the same time.”

The project’s first phase, scheduled for completion in 2025, includes major railway expansions and the creation of a locomotive facility that will serve to double the overall railway capacity at the port.

Other major aspects of the project include demolishing and relocating a crucial stormwater facility that will be displaced as part of the railway expansions and widening the existing rail bridge over the Dominguez Channel.

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.