A Finger In The Dike

At the Trade Policy Forum, sponsored by the California Council for International Trade and held on the campus of the University of California – San Diego last week, Barry Sedlik, the undersecretary of the California Business, Transportation & Housing Agency stated that, “The state’s economy and quality of life depend on the efficient, safe delivery of goods to and from our ports and borders”. Mr. Sedlik revealed that the governor has created a Cabinet Working Group to work “collaboratively” with the state’s logistics providers, local and regional governments, business, labor and environmental groups, and other interested parties “to achieve shared goals”.

“It’s the expressed policy of this Administration to improve and expand California’s goods movement industry and infrastructure”, he said, and he listed these “shared goals” as, job generation, an increase in mobility, a significant decrease in traffic congestion, improved air quality, enhanced public and port safety, and an overall improvement in California’s quality of life.

The Administration’s policy is an admirable one and the creation of the Cabinet Working Group is a step in the right direction, but committees usually require a lot of time to solve problems or even offer initiatives. In the meantime, a more flexible State Senator Alan Lowenthal has sponsored five bills intended to reduce some of the congestion on highways used by truckers serving the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland, and apart from his efforts and the concern voiced by the Administration, little more than hand-wringing and criticism is forthcoming from West Coast officials. In spite of the fact that Senator Lowenthal has declared that his package of bills is “the most ambitious set of bills I have ever introduced”, so-called but unnamed industry analysts have stated that the legislation may be too little too late. These analysts base their skepticism on studies indicating that by the year 2030 containerized cargo moving through the complex at LA/Long Beach could reach 44.7 million TEUs, requiring approximately 45,000 daily truck trips. The study stated further, however, that if measures are not taken to mitigate developing congestion, the number of truck trips, just on I-710, would surge to more than 65,200 daily.

With all due respect to the highly speculative PierPass program, Senator Lowenthal’s bills are the only steps that have been positively defined, and when and if accepted by the legislative bodies in Sacramento, an immediate, though limited, benefit will begin to take effect. Are these bills the answer to the unavoidable congestion problems in California’s major ports? As a long-term solution? No. But something has to be done to hold back the flood gates, and Senator Lowenthal’s bills will act as a finger in the dike to buy precious time until an effective and lasting solution can be acknowledged and adopted.

Even though 45,000 truck trips per day is a much more palatable figure than 65,200 daily trips, 45,000 trucks each measuring some 65-feet in length represent a linear distance of more than 550 miles! To put this in perspective, 13 million TEUs passed through the ports of LA/Long Beach in 2004, and required something like 13,000 daily truck trips. But 45,000 truck trips each day? The commuters/taxpayers/voters will say, “This far, and no farther … there’s gotta be a better way”.