The Sacramento Winds

Four years ago, Mr. Norman Mineta, the former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, urged U.S. port authorities to increase the number of container handling ports. There are 61 U.S. ports presently listed as container-handling ports, and Mr. Mineta suggested that another 200 more may be required in the not-too-distant future. We called attention to his advice on a number of occasions, even though we knew that we would be a lot easier to ignore than he was.

It wasn’t just Mr. Mineta’s advice that was being ignored, however. Mr. John Bowe, APL America’s senior executive, was recently heard to say, “The U.S. economy has been transformed by unprecedented growth in containerized imports. Growth in transportation infrastructure hasn’t kept pace. If we don’t fix this, supply chains will bog down, consumer prices will go up and the economy will suffer.”

Mr. Richard Bank, a former director of the Office of Maritime Affairs, put it this way; “No one will tell you that U.S. ports are fine … Now the great volume of goods moves direct from the Far East to U.S. West Coast ports … This volume tested the limits of our port and intermodal infrastructure and serious constraints began to emerge. Facility inadequacies caused delays and other problems, raising concerns among carriers and shippers.”

Mr. Bank made it clear that under current work rules, capabilities, and road and rail infrastructure, West Coast ports are not ready for the next spurt in ocean trade. “Although the U.S. West Coast recently has accommodated trade growth, primarily from China, it is walking on thin ice,” he added.

Linda Hothern, CEO of Oakland’s Pacific American Services reported, “Cargo diversion from Los Angeles created a 25-percent increase in business last year. At least 15 percent of that growth came from importers looking for alternate ports.”

The Asia Pacific Foundation, a Canada-based think-tank, has reported that ship operators are already looking for alternate locations due to congestion at ports such as Los Angeles. The report also stressed the expansion efforts in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam where hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on new container terminals. In contrast to these expansion programs in Asia, the think-tank noted the insignificant development of container terminals on our own West Coast.

In spite of what we’ve heard …
• From Mr. Mineta that we needed about 200 more container handling ports.
• From Mr. Bank that shippers and carriers are concerned about delays and other problems.
• From Ms. Hothern said that importers are looking for alternate ports.
• And from The Asia Pacific Foundation that ship operators are already looking for these alternate locations …

…The only relief the taxpayers in Southern California are getting is:
• The questionable effectiveness of PierPass … along with a lot of hot air from Sacramento.