A reporter in the LA Times came up with the following observations earlier this week:
• The annual armada of holiday goods has begun to arrive at Southern California’s ports, pushing Long Beach to its busiest month ever in August. So far there’s been no repeat of last year’s huge floating traffic jam.
• Not everyone is happy about the ports’ improved ability to handle so much traffic or with one of the steps taken to accomplish it: keeping terminal gates open well into the morning.
• Many port truck drivers don’t like working at night. And some late-evening commuters who once breezed along the 710 freeway find themselves competing for space with heavy container-truck traffic.
• A survey of about 350 truck drivers who haul freight to and from the ports found that many were unhappy with working nights and haven’t found it easier to get day work even though there is less congestion. The survey, commissioned by the California Trucking Association, revealed that four out of ten drivers had a negative opinion of OffPeak, with 30% undecided. Many drivers indicated that the promised shorter waiting times have not materialized.
• The Association has remained opposed to the program because it doesn’t offer higher pay rates to drivers for working nights. Many drivers would support the program, the survey found, if they received higher pay.
• A year ago, an “unforeseen surge of foreign cargo left the ports of LA and Long Beach” struggling to accommodate a growing backlog of ships waiting to be unloaded — a tie-up that numbered more than 94 vessels at its October peak.
• Bruce Wargo, chief executive of the PierPass program, disputed the validity of the survey, saying that the program’s own poll of drivers found many who were happier working at night because there was less traffic on the freeways.
• Off-peak commuters whose evening drives home at the 65-mph speed limit on the 710 freeway used to be relatively truck-free, however, see things differently. “Now I’m merging with trucks, stopping and going, as late as 8 p.m. and even 8:30 p.m.” said one. “Before, you could avoid the trucks. Now you can’t.”
• Even the neighbors are concerned about noise and pollution. “The deepest, darkest worry is that as the ports grow, the traffic will simply get as bad as it used to be.” said Tom Politeo, a San Pedro resident and co-chairman of the Sierra Club’s Harbor Vision Committee, an arm of the environmental group that monitors pollution and congestion at the ports.
Mr. Politeo’s concerns will be realized, of course, because port authorities fully intend that the ports will grow. They’ll grow alright, but not by much. Because he could see the handwriting on the wall, Douglas Tilden predicted back in 2000, “… the lines will hit a brick wall in Southern California”. Cargo terminals operators, trucking companies and railroads responded during last fall’s fiasco by hiring more workers and purchasing extra equipment. These were temporary adjustments though. Band-aids. The 100 plus vessels that diverted to other ports, however… that was the real “unforeseen surge of foreign cargo that left the ports of LA and Long Beach”… maybe forever.