No Timeouts Remaining

Here’s how U.S. planners are addressing today’s chaotic supply line congestion. A report in the LA Times tells us that the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) has just approved a plan to expand the 710 Freeway in an effort to ease traffic congestion from the ports of LA and Long Beach. This expansion project would create four elevated truck-only lanes which would boost the capacity of the highway to 10 traffic lanes at an estimated cost of $ 4.5 billion (that’s in today’s dollars). The article went on to say that port officials and the business community stressed the fact that there is an URGENT need to find a solution to ease the traffic gridlock, which they’ve acknowledged to be so heavy that trucks are seen crawling along, nose-to-tail, down the same lane.

But there are some flies in this ointment. (“Hurdles” is the term used in the Times article). The major stumbling block is funding. This has been common knowledge, however, because early in December even the Long Beach Telegram mentioned the fiscal shortfall. Mr. Zev Yaroslavsky, an MTA director and LA County Supervisor, has stated, “I don’t have a clue where the $ 4 billion is going to come from”. The MTA’s budget deficit is reported to be close to $ 50 million, and the state government is reported to have frozen funding for new expressway construction. Work to expand the highway is unlikely to commence anytime soon, therefore, regardless of whether the federal or state governments foot the bill, or the funds are raised through other channels, including the levying of highway tolls and container charges. To make matters worse, according to the report, environmental reviews and engineering and design plans are expected to keep the project on hold for the next decade. No wonder the MTA directors so magnanimously approved of this impossible expansion program.

Recalling the discomforting events in the U.S. transportation system in 2004, and being advised of the logistical developments taking place in Asia at this very moment, isn’t anyone in a position to step forward and take charge? MTA directors, port officials and the business community all recognize the urgent need for a solution to the problem, but no one knows how to approach the quagmire. That’s unfortunate because we have no more timeouts left. In our preceding commentary, we wrote about aggressive shipping and shipbuilding programs being undertaken in Asia, and today’s Lloyd’s List revealed that Hyundai Merchant Marine intends to have its affiliate, Hyundai Heavy Industries, build another eight 9,000 TEU ships. As if the problem isn’t bad enough already, this additional vessel capacity, announced in the past few days and not foreseen by prognosticators, has only added to our woes. So what steps are being taken in the LA-Long Beach complex to handle this year’s assured increases in volume? An official decision has been made to expand a highway — about ten years from now. So there. That oughtta do it.

The astute observer can see the problem. No one wants to step forward, simply because no one has the expertise to do so. This is the very first time a crisis of this magnitude has been encountered, and because no one individual can be held responsible for the tragic failings at every link in the supply chain, and because it seems so convenient to point an accusing finger at an adjoining link, the prevailing attitude is, “Let George do it”. But as we’ve just indicated, “George” is incapable.