(July 5) When it was established in 1958, the Port of Quincy, Wash., was supposed to be a water port handling barges floating down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. That plan never came to fruition, but Quincy found its role — albeit a smaller one — handling truck freight.

Nearly 50 years later, Quincy is one of a handful of landlocked cities — Dallas, San Antonio and the Kansas City, Mo., metropolitan area to name a few — trying to use its proximity to a major highway, rail and a cargo airport to draw new businesses to the area and create an inland port.

Pat Boss, public affairs adviser for the Port of Quincy, said some seaports lack the real estate necessary to expand and cannot process freight in an efficient manner. Quincy not only has plenty of real estate, but its relatively cheap land and available labor make it a desirable location for a distribution center, he said.

“We can take pressure off the ocean ports,” he said. “Bring it inland and let us handle the loading and unloading, and we’ll distribute it. Quincy is a good model for that.”

Quincy, about 150 miles from Seattle and 160 miles from Tacoma, Wash., is on Interstate 90 and has a one-year-old intermodal facility on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad line that runs from Seattle to Chicago. It’s 20 miles from the cargo airport at Moses Lake, Wash.

Columbia ColStor Inc., Moses Lake, plans to open an intermodal distribution center in Quincy this fall. The facility has more than 200,000 square feet and will be the centerpiece of a port whose tenants also include technology giants Yahoo! Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif., and Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash.

The Columbia Colstor facility will handle imports and exports of frozen and fresh foods, including produce. That’s good news for grower-shippers in the Northwest, who have struggled with a lack of transportation options.

Boss said the rising cost of fuel was forcing produce business to look at rail again after decades of emphasis on trucks.

KANSAS CITY

Kansas City has been a railroad center since its stockyard opened in 1870. Fort Worth, Texas-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., and Kansas City Southern, based in Kansas City, have announced plans to build intermodal distribution centers in the area, said Chris Gutierrez, president of Kansas City SmartPort Inc., a nonprofit trade promotion group.

Kansas City is at the intersection of Interstates 70, 35 and 29 and is the nation’s third-largest truck center, Gutierrez said. It also is home to an international airport.

But it’s what Kansas City is trying to do with rail that makes it unique. The city, working with the U.S. and Mexican governments, hopes to open the first foreign customs office inside the U.S.

Products headed south by rail could be inspected in Kansas City — the nation’s largest rail center by number of cars and third-largest by tonnage — and would not be held up at the border.

Talks are ongoing, and it was uncertain when the customs facility might open, Gutierrez said.

Plans for three new distribution centers in the area totaling 2.5 million square feet have been announced in the past two months. While none of the three companies involved were produce-related, Gutierrez said, the opportunity is there for the fruit and vegetable industry.

TEXAS

David Dean, chief executive officer and president of Dean International, Dallas, also said the development of inland ports could affect the produce industry.

“It could have pretty dramatic ramifications as more and more perishable product is shipped along these lines,” Dean, whose consulting firm is working with the city to establish the Port of Dallas, said.

“Inland ports are designed to facilitate velocity as containers and other products come through shipping lanes. What often happens is the inland port becomes the shipping and receiving area for the seaport itself. Most seaports are limited in physical capacity.”

While Kansas City’s “port” is scattered on a large area on either side of the Missouri-Kansas border, Dallas is trying to attract businesses to what Dean calls a 200,000-acre “impact zone” in the city’s southeast corner that includes 26,000 undeveloped acres.

An Aug. 11 meeting with representatives of the city, county and about a dozen suburbs likely will determine the interterm structure of the Port of Dallas, Dean said, and the state legislature would determine long-term aspects next year.

Dean compared Dallas’ potential role in distributing goods from Mexico and Asia to the U.S. and Canada in this century to what Chicago and Kansas City did with goods from Europe and the East Coast in the past.

Kansas City Southern and BNSF have established facilities in the area, and Union Pacific Railroad Co., Omaha, Neb., completed an intermodal terminal in August 2005. The area has four cargo airports, and there are four Interstate highways within eight miles of the impact zone.

The key highway could be I-45, which links Dallas with the Port of Houston. Dallas is 250 miles from Houston, which ranks as the sixth largest port in the world and first in the U.S. in foreign tonnage. According to the port, 706,963 tons of produce worth $1.1 billion passed through the port in 2004.

Several media reports have said Dallas would ease the burden on Houston’s busy docks and make product flow more efficiently, but port chairman Jim Edmonds said Houston doesn’t exactly need rescuing.

The port anticipates 16% to 23% growth in containerized cargo per year for the next 10 years, but it is planning ahead. Phase I of Houston’s Bayport Container Terminal is scheduled to open in November, and that facility has the capacity to handle 2.5 million 20-foot equivalents per year. The port also has acquired 1,100 acres to develop another container terminal on Pelican Island in Galveston, Texas.