Inside the Numbers: Why Does California Need an Inland Port?

Inside the Numbers: Why Does California Need an Inland Port?

Southern Californians are accustomed to beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. 

But residents and visitors in greater Los Angeles started noticing a new feature on the horizon when they looked across the water in late 2021 and early 2022 — a flotilla of container ships in the San Pedro Bay waiting to unload in Long Beach or Los Angeles.

Records fell month after month in fall 2021. 

In September, an all-time high of 73 ships bobbed on the Pacific waiting to unload. By mid-October, 100 ships were waiting to unload off the coast of Southern California. The record fell again in November as 111 ships queued near the busy ports at Long Beach and Los Angeles.

On land, workers stacked containers five and six high, which is the maximum allowed by the fire department. And the two ports’ directors issued a joint statement announcing $100/day charges for containers left on the congested docks. Unfortunately, the backups continued into the New Year.

Port congestion in Southern California wasn’t just an issue for the ports and the carriers that use them. It was a serious problem for businesses, families and individuals who needed the goods that sat inside the containers carried on ships and waiting in stacks.

So, it comes as no surprise that a private investment firm has announced plans to build an inland port in Kern County at a location in the Mojave Desert located about 90 miles north of Long Beach and Los Angeles. The goal of this inland port would be to alleviate the backup that has plagued Long Beach and Los Angeles over the past year. Data collected by Vizion and made available through Vizion’s API highlights how the port backups in Long Beach and Los Angeles have exceeded the backups at other major American ports in 2022.

Here are more details on the planned inland port, as well as data that highlights why port performance at Long Beach and Los Angeles might necessitate an inland port.

The Details Behind the Mojave Inland Port

Pioneer Partners, a private investment firm, is the organization behind what’s being called the “Mojave Inland Port.” The Port itself is planned for 400 acres that Pioneer owns adjacent to the Mojave Air & Space Port, which is already served by a 12,500-foot runway, a railway, plus State Highways 14 and 58.

Plans call for containers carrying products on behalf of large distribution and retail companies to be loaded off ships at Long Beach and Los Angeles and then placed on shuttle trains. The trains would then carry the containers through the Alameda Corridor to the Mojave Inland Port for sorting and distribution. The journey of about 90 miles would take approximately 3 hours one way.

The Kern County Board of Supervisors has issued a proclamation approving the Port’s site plans, and Pioneer Partners has estimated that the project will create a significant impact in the region and across the state, including:

  1. More than $500 million annually for California’s economy.
  2. Nearly 3,000 new jobs and $230 million in labor income.
  3. More than $80 million in new tax revenue.
  4. About $100 million in increased revenue for the Alameda Corridor.

Work on the Mojave Inland Port is planned to start in 2023 with full operation in 2024. In total, the Port is expected to handle up to 3 million 20-foot-equivalent containers on an annual basis.

Vizion’s Data Highlights the SoCal Backup

Why would California need an inland port to support Long Beach and Los Angeles, which are two of the top five ports in the United States (along with Houston, New York and Savannah)? 

As of summer 2022, Long Beach and Los Angeles were far and away the least efficient at moving containers off their docks and out of their port gates. The amount of time a container spends waiting to get picked up and gated out after it’s unloaded is known as dwell time — a key performance indicator that Vizion tracks and makes available via API.

As of July 1, 2022, containers at Los Angeles were waiting an average of 7.11 days to leave the port gates. Long Beach was averaging 6.73 days on that same date. By comparison, New York, Savannah and Houston were all averaging a little more than 4 days for unloaded containers to leave their gates as of July 1.

By Aug. 1, Long Beach’s dwell time had climbed to an average of 8.31 days — a figure that would reach an average of 10+ days on Aug. 8. Average dwell time at Los Angeles peaked at 8.78 days on Aug. 6.

The other high-volume ports have experienced slight increases in dwell time in August, but nothing compared to Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Savannah maxed out at an average dwell time of 5.09 days on Aug. 9. New York reached a peak average of 6 days on Aug. 9. And Houston climbed to a high of 7.22 days on Aug. 10.

By moving containers to an inland port for pickup, the ports at Long Beach and Los Angeles would presumably become less congested and operate more efficiently.

What Does the Future Hold for Long Beach and Los Angeles?

In addition to the inland port planned for opening in 2024, Long Beach and Los Angeles are making strides to alleviate the backlog and keep containers moving more efficiently off of ships and out their gates.

The Port of Los Angeles set records in five out of 2022’s first seven months, including 935,345 TEUs moved in July. The flotilla of ships waiting off the Southern California coast was also reduced from 100-plus in late 2021 to just 20 in July.

But supply chain issues in the area still exist. While the backlog of ships waiting for port access has fallen, there’s now a backlog of rail containers. As of mid-July, 29,000 rail containers were sitting on port docks in Long Beach and Los Angeles, whereas authorities say the figure should be no more than 9,000.

And we’re just now entering the busiest part of the year for imports. Even in June, Long Beach and Los Angeles were already preparing to handle an influx of new arrivals as retailers began to prepare for back-to-school shopping and the holiday season waiting at the end of the year.

Will an inland port deliver the desired results if it opens in 2024 as planned? Get in touch with the Vizion team to learn more about using our data to track your containers and stay up to date on port performance.

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