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Plans made for inland port at Mojave Air and Space Port

MOJAVE, Calif. — Fifteen Years after Los Angeles County launched an ultimately unrealized campaign to create an inland port in Palmdale, Kern County’s Board of Supervisors signed a proclamation of support for a proposal to build a new generation transportation hub adjacent to Mojave Air and Space Port.

The proclamation announced the county’s agreement to support the intention of two private sector companies to finance, plan and construct a 402 or 410-acre inland port adjacent to Mojave Air and Space Port.

Located 90 miles north of the Long Beach and San Pedro harbors, the Mojave Inland Port would receive from the mega seaports an estimated 3 million cargo shipping containers a year arriving on Union Pacific Railroad trackage and on trucks using the SR-14 Antelope Valley Freeway.

The reported privately financed project involves collaboration between Kern County, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Houston-based holding company Pioneer Partners, and Greenbriar Capital, LLC. In its press release, Greenbriar Capital said what it called California’s first inland dryland port would be the largest in the United States and could support as many as 3,000 new jobs while generating an annual economic impact exceeding half a billion dollars.

Cost estimates for the project were not given.

Pioneer Partners Chairman Richard Kellogg was quoted in his company’ news release as saying, “This one-of-a-kind project will help unsnarl the congestion in the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach; it will help the national economy by reducing pressure on the supply chain; it will help the local economy through job creation.”

Kellogg’s statement concluded, “Goods will get to businesses and consumers faster and more efficiently. We can’t wait to get started.”

According to Pioneer Partners’ press release, groundbreaking for the inland port is expected by 2023, with grand opening in 2024. The release quoted Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt as saying the Mojave Inland Port is a fully permitted industrial site. Pioneer Partners said it will work with Kern County to secure the necessary building permits.

Trelynd Bradley of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development wrote in a statement to media, “Inland ports are a critical component to the future balance of our supply chain. They can provide flexibility and efficiency, all the while relieving traffic congestion at critical choke points.” He added, “We appreciate the work that Pioneer’s Mojave Inland Port proposal has done to help find new solutions to address our supply chain challenges.”

Containers are expected to arrive in Mojave from the L.A. harbors astride Union Pacific’s main line via shuttle trains, and are to be distributed via state highways 15 and 58.

The presence of Mojave Air and Space Port (MASP), briefly mentioned in the Bakersfield session as having available land for development along Highways 14 and 58, and being one of only a few sites with airport, freeway and rail transportation. Developers also noted the location was selected because of its proximity to undeveloped land for warehouses and industry.

In its news release Pioneer Partners predicted MASP will see more traffic because of the port location. “We believe the additional container traffic coming to Mojave will stimulate its use as a hub for air and space cargo, taking advantage of the 12,500-foot heavy lift runway directly adjacent to a new, state-of-the-art intermodal cargo hub.”

The only written response from Mojave Air and Space Port was a letter from departing airport CEO Michael Lindner to Kern County planning chief Oviatt. Lindner wrote that he found the port project has no conflict with the air and space port’s zoning and land use matters.

Beacon Economics, LLC, a private Los Angeles-based research consulting company, did the feasibility study for the project, estimating it will generate $113 million, create 662 regional jobs during construction, and add $73 million to Kern County’s property tax base. Beacon also estimated the port development will eventually create 2,851 permanent jobs in Kern County.

Pioneer Partners, whose largest project to date is a 2,200-acre brownfield development in Henderson, Nev., said 75 people will work directly for the inland port, “engaging with more than 1,000 truck drivers.

The plan calls for the jammed cargo ports in San Pedro and Long Beach, where there is no room for growth, to send shipping container-carrying rail cars to Mojave for unloading and transshipment via road or rail to destination cities and states.

Now retired L.A. County Fifth District Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who initiated the original inland port effort at Palmdale, told Aerotech News, “As you so well know, inland ports would quickly increase efficiency with our supply chain from the ports, drastically reduce congestion and tearing up of our freeways, highways, roadways, and reduce insurance and medical costs.”

Michael Cano, who served as Antonovich’s transportation deputy on the North L.A. County inland port planning effort, is now Deputy Executive Officer for Goods Movement Planning and State Policy and Programming for Los Angeles County Metro’s Countywide Planning Department.

Among his duties, Cano leads development of the L.A. County Goods Movement Strategic Plan, multimodal corridor planning and integration, grant applications for state and freight programs, project development, and local-state-federal policy analysis for goods movement-related at Metro.

The sum of it means Metro’s Freight Working Group brings together stakeholders from state, local and private entities directly involved with goods movement in Los Angeles County. Cano also serves as Metro’s representative on the California Freight Advisory Committee.

In interviews with Aerotech News, inland port pioneers Antonovich and Cano recalled challenges overcome, those that weren’t, lessons learned, and thoughts about what might work better this time around, and why.

Antonovich said the need to reduce heavy truck congestion on the region’s highways and freeways is even greater now than it was in mid-summer 2007 when he brought together officials representing transit agencies, ports, railroads, urban planners, road and highway departments and businesses. The L.A. Times quoted him as saying, “The congestion is here and it’s only going to get worse. We need to act now to resolve the problem.”

Then, as now, much of the cargo lifted from ships at the seaports was loaded onto big rigs which clogged freeways at all hours, causing gridlock and contributing to air pollution and a growing rate of freeway crashes.

A few years before L.A. began its inland port effort, the county built a trench for trains from the ports to downtown railyards. What was called the Alameda Corridor eased congestion surface congestion on the first leg of route, but just moved the bottleneck north, authorities found.

L.A. County’s next stage in development was the Antonovich concept of using rail and roads to quickly move seaport cargo to large tracts of undeveloped land in the vicinity of Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale. From there, the goods would be transshipped to final destinations.

And then as now, a major impediment to building transportation infrastructure were two questions: What will it cost, and who pays the bills?

Back then, the financing issue seemed less pressing. In 2006 — just a year before Antonovich launched the Palmdale inland port initiative, California voters passed a $19.9-billion statewide transportation bond measure, with $3.2 billion allocated to improving the movement of cargo through the seaports via highways and rail.

With that setting the stage, Antonovich convened the multiple agencies needed to cooperate in creating the Antelope Valley Inland Port.

Key to unlocking an inland port in Palmdale was a Joint Use Agreement involving the Air Force, the City of Palmdale and Los Angeles World Airways (LAWA). The agreement allowing commercial air traffic provided leverage in pursuing economic development and job creation.

In the aftermath of the Palmdale inland port idea’s demise, several Antelope Valley leaders observed that LAWA dragged its feet on supporting commercial uses in Palmdale, while supporting Ontario Airport.

Other impediments to success of the Palmdale inland port plan were limitations on the most direct access routes from the Los Angeles Basin. The railroad from L.A. to Palmdale was limited in its hauling capacity, and the 14 Freeway was not yet expanded. Officials studied tunneling through the mountains to build a new freeway from Pasadena, using toll revenue to build a High Desert Corridor to connect Lancaster and Palmdale west to the I-5 freeway and east to the I-15 in San Bernardino. And there was consideration of using magnetic levitation (mag-lev) technology for freight trains.

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