The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are spending so much money these days to build larger container terminals, on-dock rail facilities and a new bridge in the harbor area that the transportation community seems to have forgotten about a project outside the port gates that could be just as important to the growth of the ports.
The draft environmental impact report on the addition of truck lanes to I-710, the primary truck route serving the ports, is due to be released in February 2012. A widely distributed photo of truck gridlock on I-710 was one of the motivating factors for development in 2005 of the PierPass extended gate program.
Jerry Wood, director of transportation and engineering at the Gateway Cities Council of Governments in Southern California, said that after the customary public comment period, the end of 2012 should finalize the EIR.
Even though the five night and weekend gates that are run under the PierPass program have helped to reduce congestion on I-710, a trip on the freeway can still turn into a game of chicken with trucks going to and from the port complex, so the project is needed just as much today as it was when studies began in 1999.
Wood told the Future Ports conference on Oct. 11 that the proposed project has been reengineered over the years to reduce as much as possible the impact on the communities on either side of the freeway. “Only a handful of homes will be lost,” he said.
The project as envisioned is still impressive, though, as it would create four separate truck lanes in addition to a total of 10 general-purpose lanes on an 18-mile stretch of the freeway. Projects of much smaller magnitude have been held up for years, or killed, due to Southern California’s tough environmental standards and community activism, so there are no guarantees that I-710 will ever get truck lanes.
However, the EIR should emphasize that the ports since 2008 have replaced the entire fleet of pre-2007 trucks – some 10,000 trucks -- with clean diesel and LNG trucks that meet the strictest federal Environmental Protection Agency standards. The new fleet has reduced truck pollution at the ports more than 80 percent in just three years. As State Sen. Alan Lowenthal told the conference, “We now have the cleanest trucks in the United States.”
Even if the project is approved, it could create the truck lanes to nowhere. Most of the 1.2 billion square feet of industrial warehouse space in Southern California is not located along I-710, but 30 to 50 miles east of Los Angeles in the vast region known as the Inland Empire. The Southern California Association of Governments, the metropolitan planning organization for the region, is already looking at truck lanes for east-west freeways serving the Inland Empire.
Adding truck lanes to freeways in congested urban areas such as Southern California will be very costly, and yet they can be classified as projects of national significance, Lowenthal said. These projects should also serve as a reminder that the U.S. desperately needs a national freight transportation policy, he said.