Another Jam Session

“Jam today, jam tomorrow” headlines an article by Harrison Sheppard in the Long Beach Telegram, and Mr. Sheppard’s lengthy coverage of the ‘goods movement’ concerns of Californians makes one wonder whether anyone out there is seeing the whole picture.

“More than 16,000 trucks travel through the Los Angeles port every day, clogging the Long Beach (710) Freeway and other thoroughfares,” Mr. Sheppard writes. Traffic jams aren’t the whole story, however, because to some degree Californians have always been living with crowded highways. Now they’re being asked to live with … and die with … the consequences of air pollution.

Business interests are inclined to dismiss this peril and have just one thought in mind when it comes to dealing with the projected increases in cargo volumes: fund expansion projects with tax monies. As stated by the CEO of the Los Angeles County Economic Growth Corp., “It would be a shame if we can’t handle the cargo, because hundreds of thousands of people’s jobs in Southern California depend on our ability to handle increasing cargo flows from Asia”. That’s a swing and a miss. He should have showed some concern for the hundreds of thousands lives that are being threatened.

It would be entirely accurate to say that those hundreds of thousands of jobs do not depend upon “increasing cargo flows”. Those jobs depend, in fact, on just maintaining the ports’ cargo volumes at present levels. “Increasing cargo flows” should be directed instead to other, little used California ports, at a fraction of the costs now being committed to announced “projects”. For some strange reason the idea of opening up other California seaports to container traffic doesn’t sit well with the powers that be. Maybe that kind of expansion just doesn’t cost enough taxpayer money.

Some policymakers, Mr. Sheppard reports, even expressed a preference “to take pressure off the ports by moving some operations inland”, but how that can be done without first discharging cargo in the Southern California container ports has yet to be explained by these policymakers.

Still another project being recommended by transportation officials — and one making even less sense — would be to use ships rather than trucks to transport goods between Southern and Northern California. No one has even mentioned the simpler and much less costly option of delivering these goods from Asia directly to Northern California ports. They dream instead of offloading massive amounts of Asian goods at LA/Long Beach, messing around with these goods in an already chaotic environment, reloading these goods onto smaller vessels, offloading these smaller vessels at a northern location — and in the end, relying upon truck or rail delivery anyway. Preposterous.

A $ 20 billion transportation bond was approved by the voters last year, and earlier this year, writes Mr. Sheppard, “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a $ 15 billion Goods Movement Action Plan, with some 200 projects designed to improve transit in California”. To the taxpayer that sounds like a sizeable chunk of money, but to lawmakers and policymakers that’s only loose change.

“The state has secured only a fraction of the necessary funding,” Mr Sheppard’s report stated.