On The Rocks

The Asia Pacific Foundation, a Canada-based think tank, said in a recent report that ship operators were already looking for alternate locations to offload their cargoes due to congestion at ports such as Los Angeles.

Ports along North America’s West Coast are lagging far behind their Asian counterparts in expanding container handling facilities, the report stated, and with the steady growth in global trade, fed for the most part by China’s production, these ports and surrounding communities could once more be faced with rail and highway congestion. Asian ports are responding to the expected increase in container volumes, it was noted, but North American ports were still unprepared for the surge.

The report also highlighted the expansion efforts in Singapore and Malaysia, as well as in Vietnam where $ 250 million is being spent on a new container terminal capable of handling 1.5 million TEU annually. In contrast to these Asian efforts, the foundation noted that the development of container terminals on the North American West Coast is relatively insignificant.

In spite of the fact that the Port of Vancouver is planning to double its capacity by the year 2020, and that the Port of Prince Rupert will open a new 500,000 TEU container facility in 2007, the foundation also reported that political support is lagging even though these Canadian ports have the advantage of being “natural entry and exit” points for Asian trade with the West Coast of North America.

What about the other “entry and exit” points on the West Coast? Although a reasonable and manageable TEU volume has long since been reached at the LA/Long Beach port complex, the powers-that-be are determined to force as much container traffic as possible into and through the region. The solutions they rely upon have nothing to do with the problems generated by excessive container volumes, but nevertheless, it’s “Damn the torpedoes … full speed ahead.”

The effectiveness of PierPass is being questioned in a number of quarters. The system has required ongoing adjustment since its inception, and merely shifting daytime traffic congestion to the evening hours reminds one of the “daylight saving time” cartoon in the early seventies where a prominent government official likened the effort to snipping off the top of a blanket and sewing it to the bottom. It got a few laughs, we recall. So is the PierPass initiative.

Another illogical step to reduce congestion is the effort being taken to widen the 710 Freeway. That massive project outside the port complex will surely loosen things up within the port complex, won’t it? Does that make any sense? Someone … like the governor, for instance … should be shouting, “Enough, already!” There are a number of shuttered ports in California that could be revitalized and retrofitted to handle containers, and such a revival would mean that those soon-to-be diverted volumes written about by think tanks could be delivered and conveniently managed by California ports and by newly employed California workers. And it would cost a lot less money than the powers-that-be are now preparing to waste in Southern California.