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Nearly 150 years after the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in northern Utah, some of the state's top business leaders and officials said Tuesday that building another major junction in Salt Lake City an inland port could provide a major boost to the local economy as cargo is ferried from West Coast seaports to the rest of the country.
Similar "dry ports" have been built around the country in places like Kansas City and Greenville, S.C., creating shipping hubs where cargo containers are processed, stored and transferred from trucks and railcars.
Though Salt Lake City sits about 800 miles from the sea, state leaders said it could be a natural site for an inland port because of proximity to several major interstate highways, an international airport and a major railway freight terminal run by Union Pacific railroad.
Derek Miller of the World Trade Center Utah, who is leading a new committee studying the issue, said Salt Lake City is not set in stone as the potential location but there are not many other Utah sites that would make sense.
Business leaders contend setting up a major shipping gateway in Utah could make it easier to export goods and materials broad and attract manufacturers to the state.
That could mean an auto manufacturing plant in Utah or an Amazon.com fulfillment center, said Paul Devine, the U.S. president of Hong Kong-based shipping carrier Orient Overseas Container Line, which has an office in South Jordan.
Miller said the Inland Port Exploratory Committee, created by Gov. Gary Herbert, plans to hire a consultant in the coming months to study the issue and help make a recommendation to the governor later this year about whether to pursue the project.
The consultant's study is expected to cost about $250,000, Miller said, and would look at how big a port might be, where it should be located, how much it might cost and who would pay for it.
Miller said an inland port's funding would likely involve a mix of private investment and government funding.
Choosing a site west of the Salt Lake City airport near the planned site of a $550 million state prison means that a port project would share some of the $100 million in additional roads, utilities and other infrastructure costs the state would need to fund, Miller said.
Miller said the committee will ask state lawmakers to pay for the $250,000 consulting study when they meet for their legislative session that starts Monday.