Cui bono?

Last week Jesse Marquez of Wilmington let it be known that as long as truckers were to be the beneficiaries of highway improvements, they should logically be the ones to pay for the upgrades. “You do not force the public to subsidize private freeways for trucks,” he said. We saw nothing wrong with Jesse’s reasoning and we even took it a step further by wondering why the ports weren’t being asked to pay for the traffic jams and air pollution. After all, the ports are the cause of the mess.
When the governor mentioned the toll lanes idea as a way to raise money for freeway construction and expansion, independent truck drivers and their lobbyists immediately protested. Independent truckers who daily haul thousands of shipping containers contend that they can ill afford to pay the tolls and still stay in business.

“We’re the poorest people around and the first targets for all kinds of taxes,” said Mel Mouradian who has been hauling containers along the 710 Freeway for 12 years. “We are not making that much money to pay tolls.” Truckers are paid less than $ 100 per trip and are already strapped because they have to pay for their own fuel, said Michael Campbell, chief executive of the California Trucking Association, which represents Mouradian and many of the other independents.

Barry Broad, an advocate for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, said the toll proposal ignored the plight of drivers whom he described as “the impoverished sharecroppers” of the ports. They’re already paying about $ 30,000 a year per vehicle in federal and state taxes and fees, he said. Truckers can’t pay for the upgrades, they weren’t the cause of the problems, and they strongly feel that the cost of building new vehicle lanes and other transportation improvements should be borne by those who are responsible … those involved in the exporting and importing of goods.

Where exactly is the ex-port-ing and im-port-ing of goods taking place, anyway? Shouldn’t the ports be assessed for improvements on those roadways that have been badly abused by ever-expanding port operations? Isn’t that the kind of logic Jesse was aiming at? Cui bono? Who’s getting rich in the deal? In the last 25 years or so, billions of dollars have been spent transforming LA/Long Beach into the two largest container ports on the continent, an indication that ex-port-ing and im-port-ing intermodal containers has been a highly lucrative proposition. During those years, blinders were donned by port officials so that traffic and pollution problems that were being caused in port communities by their growing industry could go unnoticed. Nothing was being said or done back then, and head-scratching and finger-pointing is all that’s forthcoming nowadays. Health threats from diesel fumes and increasing numbers of highway accidents are of little concern to those enthusiastically preparing to triple the number of vehicle trips on crumbling highways.

And it gets worse. One Southern California “expert” on transportation and public works projects, when asked who should foot the cost of reducing congestion, concluded that retailers should pay, so they can pass it on to consumers … the ultimate beneficiaries! Cui bono? Blinders? [Talk about warped thinking!]