“Don’t take any wooden nickels!”

“You’ll give me a nickel for a dollar any day”, was the expression used by old-timers whenever they discovered they were being offered the short end of a stick. That’s what California’s taxpayers should have said to the Harbor Commissioners at Long Beach last week when the Commission graciously voted to ante-up $ 5 million toward the $ 30 million it will cost to study the environmental impact of widening I-710 from six to fourteen lanes.

But that’s just peanuts compared to what the project is expected to cost. $ 5.5 billion in today’s dollars is the figure quoted, but when time, inflation and inevitable cost overruns are factored in, the real cost will more than likely be four to five times the $ 5.5 billion. And, by the way, the study itself will take at least three to four years to complete, says the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, so that will have an effect on the completion date of the project … and also on the ultimate cost.

And don’t forget the bridge. That’s also scheduled to be destroyed and replaced in order to accommodate those megaships and their owners’ profit margins. Mighty neighborly of you Californian taxpayers. Earlier estimates were set at $ 700 million for this endeavor, but if it ever happens you can be sure that the final costs will be nowhere in that vicinity. Would you care to guess how much the Harbor Commissioners will ante-up for that environmental study?

Here’s a serious question for you though. If the volume of imported containers are already adversely affecting the air quality in Southern California, how in the world will a doubling, or tripling, of this volume be looked upon by the EPA? Will building a larger bridge and wider highways, thus increasing the amount of traffic, reduce the amount of air pollution? Somebody’s selling snake oil out there.

We made a prediction in our November 5th, 2004 commentary. Go back and review that commentary if you have a minute. It’s titled, “Daydreaming”, and events since then, in the U.S. and elsewhere, point to the inevitability of drastic changes in the intermodal supply chain. Long before the year 2020, forward thinking logisticians and investors will overrule the stagnant mindset of those who’ve chiseled in stone the 40-year old modus operandi of container terminals. When it is no longer possible to disgorge these heavy volumes into the nation’s highways and railways, alert minds will call a halt to the fallacy and futility of stuffing boxes upon boxes in a single location, and proper course corrections will be plotted.

Doubting Thomases will see the light before the three to four year I-710 environmental study is completed. The big winners will be consumers and taxpayers. Consumers will win because of lower prices along the entire supply chain, and taxpayers will win because the billions of dollars now sought by today’s planners for their pipe dreams will not be appropriated. Investors will provide the funding for up-dated facilities instead. Air pollution concerns will be assuaged because the “Run to daylight” strategy has already begun to affect annual volumes, and even maritime officials will enjoy a more leisurely life. [The Harbor Commissioners, however, just blew $ 5 million.]