Infrastructure development will be the key driver of port growth in Southern California, but it will happen only if transportation leaders and the local communities understand each other’s needs, according to industry consultants who addressed a seminar at California State University Long Beach on Wednesday.
In a scenario that could be adopted by any port community, the consultants said progress begins with a vision developed by the transportation industry and regional planning organizations, and proceeds to implementation with the support of local communities.
Gill Hicks, director of Southern California operations at Cambridge Systematics, said the Alameda Corridor represents the type of collaboration required to win community support, and local, state and federal money, for a large goods-movement infrastructure development project.
Hicks served as general manager of the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority in the 1980s and 1990s. The 20-mile rail expressway links the ports with the national rail network. It required 17 years of negotiations and compromises involving the ports, the railroads, planning organizations, and local communities, Hicks said.
The $2.4 billion project achieved two key goals — streamlining the goods movement process and reducing pollution in nearby communities.
Additional development is needed, including adding truck lanes to the I-710 freeway in the harbor area, and Alameda Corridor East, a massive grade-separation project covering about 70 miles of track running eastward from the terminus of the Alameda Corridor.
Large infrastructure projects raise community concerns about pollution from trucks and trains. Hicks noted that the ports’ clean-truck program, which reduced truck pollution by 90 percent, was implemented because the ports listened to these concerns.
However, communities in turn must listen to business interests about the importance of discretionary cargo and the need for jobs. “What is the health impact of poverty and joblessness?” Hicks asked. Numerous studies have detailed such risks, he added.
Intermodal rail helped make Los Angeles-Long Beach the nation’s largest port complex, and further development of on and near-dock rail facilities are needed to support further growth. More than 60 percent of the ports’ imports move inland via intermodal rail, either intact or after being trans-loaded into domestic 53-foot containers, Hicks said.
Rail transfer facilities are usually funded with private money, but they may require buy-in from local communities. Near-dock rail is essential to the growth of discretionary cargo in Los Angeles-Long Beach. “You have a great intermodal system here. Keep improving it,” said Jeannie Beckett, principal at The Beckett Group (PDF).
Expanding the Union Pacific’s Intermodal Container Transfer Facility, building BNSF’s proposed Southern California International Gateway and expanding what is already the nation’s largest network of on-dock rail yards will be necessary if the ports are to retain their share of discretionary cargo from Asia, she said.