Logo: University of Southern California

Inland Seaports Could Ease L.A. Truck Traffic

Locating cargo-handling facilities away from the harbors could halve total big-rig container mileage in the five-county area
Newly Paul
December 10, 2008 —

New research by a USC Viterbi School of Engineering professor finds that the capacity of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach could be supported  and their environmental impact lessened by moving cargo distribution and processing inland.

According to Mansour Rahimi, an associate professor in the Viterbi School's Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, such a move could streamline the movement of container trucks from the twin ports, which are among the busiest in the world.   

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Mansour Rahimi: More capacity, less congestion. (Newly Paul photo)

"A more efficient system than the one used today would be one that places these containers on to the rail or truck system, moves them into a single or multiple inland port areas in a very clean and efficient way, and then begins reprocessing, repackaging and distributing them to various points inside the region or outside to the rest of the country," said Rahimi.

His research, funded by the Metropolitan Transport Research Center, looks forward at the long term expansion of the goods movement industry by looking for possible inland port locations in the counties of Los Angeles, San Bernandino, Riverside, Orange and Ventura. He investigated two models: a single inland megaport in Commerce, and up to six smaller inland facilities spread through the five-county area.  

“We’re in a recession, which means that less cargo is coming in from East Asia.  This has given us breathing room to plan for the next economic upturn,” said Rahimi.

The efficiency measure Rahimi and his team used for their system is truck vehicle mile travel or "truck VMT." This is the total number of miles that trucks travel within the entire network in the five counties. The idea is to create a new system where the same number of containers would be carried in the system with significantly less truck VMT, thereby reducing congestion in the main truck corridors and proportionally reducing truck emissions. 

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Optimal location for a single inland port

"According to our estimates, the current total truck VMT is about 230,000 miles per day serving the five counties," said the researcher.

The first of Rahimi's models found that if an inland port is built in the City of Commerce, this figure is cut in half.  The analysis identified the current intermodal rail facilities in Commerce as the optimum location for this inland port.

The reduction depends on having an efficient and green rail system with enough capacity to carry the cargo to the City of Commerce, from where it would be distributed further by a network of trucks. 

A second model started from the assumption that creating a single inland port would not be feasible, as it would be difficult to create a huge intermodal truck facility to serve the entire network at the heart of the Los Angeles. 

"We used another modeling tool and came up with the idea of creating up to six inland ports, one in each of six sub-regions. On calculating the reduction in truck VMTs for adding each of these inland ports to the entire network, we saw that again a location in the City of Commerce would see the biggest improvement, followed by facilities in Mira Loma in San Bernardino County, in Orange County, in east L.A. County, in L.A. County north of the ports, and in Ventura County,” said Rahimi. He also stressed that these VMT reductions directly correlate to reductions in truck

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Optimal location of the six inland ports, one in each sub-region.
emissions and their health impacts.

His research, which started in January last year, was completed earlier this year. "The next phase of the research will be to use the truck VMT figures to carry out a cost-benefit analysis. This will show which inland ports are feasible and which are not, given different types of rail connections and land use," said Rahimi.

Despite potential effiencies from inland ports, Rahimi notes that creation of such a system will raise political issues.

"It is true that the inland port approach will move  the congestion and pollution away from the ports and reduces these negative impacts in the entire five county region," he says.  "However, the trade-off is that it will do this at the expense of adding congestion and pollution to the local communities where these ports might be located.  Local communities are sensitive when truck traffic concentrates in their backyards."

He noted that the work is still at the early stage of development and this is one of whole host of economic, social, environmental and policy issues need to be resolved before such a system is considered for implementation by the local and state policy-makers and developers. More information about environmental issues is being gathered, he said, by a team of researchers from USC’s Center for Sustainable Cities and the Keck’s Department of Preventive Medicine that is working on quantifying the health impacts of truck traffic on children living adjacent to truck traffic corridors in LA region.

Working on the study with Rahimi were professor  Ardavan Asef-Vaziri of California State University Northridge and Robert Harrison,  deputy director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas, Austin. The research, originally presented as a report to the funder, will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Maritime Economics and Logistics.

Below: Existing inland port development by Alliance California adjacent to the San Bernardino International Airport.