By Brice Wallace

The Utah Inland Port Authority has unveiled plans to construct the first port-owned facility: a transloading facility that aims to smooth the movement of imports and exports through Utah while also providing environmental benefits.

The project was unveiled at the authority board’s most recent meeting, conducted virtually.

In a recorded video message to the board, Jack Hedge, the authority’s executive director, said the movement of international containerized goods into Utah currently is inefficient. The transloading facility would address that problem, he said. Inbound oceangoing containers from West Coast ports that arrive at the Union Pacific intermodal facility in Salt Lake City would be moved to the nearby transloading facility, where the goods inside would be transferred to larger containers for domestic movement.

Union Pacific opened its $90 million, 260-acre intermodal facility in 2006 at 1045 S. 5500 W. on a 540-acre site. It moves freight containers from one transportation mode to another — for example, from rail cars to over-the-road trucks — without repacking the container.

For every three international containers coming into the transloading facility by rail, two domestic containers would leave for rail or truck movement.

“That has an immediate beneficial impact on our air quality, on our traffic, on our congestion, right off the bat,” Hedge said, adding that trucks would no longer need to be parked overnight along streets and in neighborhoods and would be able to plug in their auxiliary units at the facility rather than idling throughout the night.

The facility ultimately would improve opportunities for Utah exporters by cutting their costs and shipping times to West Coast ports and make Utah more attracting for manufacturing companies, Hedge said.

The facility likely would be a long, narrow building or two with dock doors on each side. While it is still in the idea stage, a possible layout distributed by the authority showed a building 924 feet long and 90 feet wide and with 156 dock doors.

The authority cautioned that the transloading facility would not be a rail or intermodal yard and would not be a distribution or fulfillment center. It also would require no long-term public subsidy but would provide revenue for the authority. It would be open to any shipper.

“The facility has been and is the missing piece of the logistics system here in Utah and across the Intermountain West,” said Jill Flygare, the authority’s chief operating officer.

“This transloading facility fills a critical gap in our transportation and logistics system. Today, there is no dedicated transloading facility in this region. Utah shippers face growing delays and congestions, which equals higher costs between California ports and Utah. The transloading facility in Salt Lake City will provide them with another option.”

The project’s cost and timeline have yet to be determined. Flygare said the authority will meet with the property developers on the facility’s design and have an idea of the timing at the authority’s next meeting in September.

“I really like the direction that you’re going on this,” board member Ben Hart told the authority staff. “I think the transload facility is absolutely the right approach as we talk about infrastructure, in particular road infrastructure, that meets where we are as a state but also meets the business case. … I have nothing but compliments for the staff. I think this is absolutely the right approach.”

During the public comment portion of the board meeting, some people complained about the possible environmental and traffic congestion impacts and other elements of the transloading facility idea, as well as the inland port in general. That criticism has plagued the port authority from its beginning.

In his prerecorded message early in the meeting, Hedge said that the authority is dealing with ongoing misinformation. “There continues to be,” he said, “a misrepresentation, a misunderstanding, outright lies about what it is that we do or don’t do.”

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