If the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach experience congestion during the peak-shipping season this fall, it won’t be due to insufficient infrastructure or marine terminal capacity, Southern California transportation executives told the Harbor Transportation Club on Thursday.
The nation’s largest port complex has abundant terminal, rail and harbor trucking capacity, but the Southern California ports could be flirting with danger if truck turn times and chassis dislocation issues are not addressed in the ensuing months.
The general consensus among shipping lines and terminal operators is that by year’s end container volumes at the port complex will be about 2 to 5 percent higher than last year. Even with a 5 percent increase, the number of containers handled in Los Angeles-Long Beach will still be less than it was in the peak year of 2006.
Over the past six years, the ports have deepened their access channels to handle vessels with a capacity of 10,000 20-foot container units or larger, terminal expansion projects have moved forward, the longshore labor force has been greatly expanded, there are 10,000 clean new trucks in the harbor and the western railroads have invested billions of dollars in additional capacity.
“We have incredible assets,” said Kathryn McDermott, deputy executive director of the business development group at the Port of Los Angeles.
Nevertheless, this impressive physical capacity will be greatly compromised if truckers experience lengthy delays at the marine terminals, said Mike Stark, president and CEO of Pacer Distribution Services. Congestion at some of the terminals remains a frustrating problem for trucking company executives and especially for their drivers, Stark said.
The Southern California ports also are beginning to experience chassis shortages and dislocation problems as ocean carriers make good on their promise to get out of the chassis business and leave it to third-party providers and pools to manage the equipment.
PierPass Inc., established by the ports’ 13 container terminal operators to address issues involving terminal capacity, safety and extended gates, believes chassis shortages and dislocations could be the top challenge facing the harbor community this peak season, PierPass President and CEO Bruce Wargo said.
The chassis issue has caught the attention of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, and the board has directed port staff to attempt to assemble a working group that will address the chassis issues for the peak season and beyond, said Don Snyder, the port’s director of trade development.