Local Motive

A maritime official recently stated that the U.S. needs to build the equivalent of a new port the size of the Port of NY/NJ every year for the next 12 years to meet growth demand.

But isn’t that what Secretary Mineta was telling port officials when he was in office? Didn’t he say that only 60 of the 361 U.S. ports in the U.S. now had container handling capabilities, and that we’d need to retrofit another 200 or so in order to deal with the projected increases in the near future?

At least one maritime official is finally seeing the light. His reckoning was a little bit askew, however. He placed the blame on the inability to expand our capacity on the lack of a national freight policy and on environmental constraints for limiting port investment.

First of all, we don’t need a “national freight policy”. Our transportation system is more than adequate to deal with the projected volume increases. What isn’t adequate, however, is the common sense necessary to manage our transportation assets. Highways, railroad tracks and air transport routes … we have more of these arteries than the rest of the world combined. But are we directing incoming cargo to points close to these transportation arteries? Of course not. Port authorities have yet to permit it because as far as they’re concerned only TEU numbers have meaning. The more TEUs stuffed into one’s own terminal, the greater the status of that port and its operatives.

Congestion, air pollution, container fees, underpaid truck drivers … these problems are important to a port operative only because it focuses national attention on his (or her) port. But port authorities may be lousing up their own nests. This national attention is what fosters “national freight policy” thinking. And who knows, maybe government intervention and control is exactly what’s needed to topple the port elite. It may prove to be the lesser of two evils.

But let’s duplicate the throughput of the Port of NY/NJ every year, without a government mandate, by taking advantage of what’s already in place … our underutilized ports. Because the location of the paying customer is always known, what he (or she) purchased, therefore, should be directed to the port nearest to that buyer. Is that so hard to understand? Haven’t we heard, ad nauseam, that the complex at LA/Long Beach handles umpteen percent of all goods being purchased by U.S. consumers? … even though umpteen percent of the buyers of these products are located hundreds, and even thousands, of miles away from LA/Long Beach? What are they thinking?

Consider the positive effects that would result in directing cargo to newly-retrofitted container ports:
• Traffic in Southern California would be a lot easier to manage. So would breathing.
• Growth would be encouraged and also easily managed.
• Employment opportunities would abound.
• Cost of consumer goods would be reduced.
• Ridiculous container fees would be seen as unnecessary and … ridiculous.

Can’t we solve our problems by relying on common sense instead of a “national freight policy”?