Calif. port interests pursue balanced approach

Calif. port interests pursue balanced approach

Transportation interests in Los Angeles-Long Beach are developing a game plan they say will accommodate cargo growth at the nation's largest port complex while at the same time protecting quality of life in the region.

"We're on the verge of doing things in Southern California that are not being done anywhere else," Calif. Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal said Wednesday night at the annual Town Hall meeting held at California State University in Long Beach.

The optimistic comments by political and transportation leaders came two days after the Natural Resources Defense Council issued a scathing report on the environmental efforts of the top 10 U.S. container ports. Most ports received below-average to failing grades for their efforts to mitigate water and air pollution.

Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat whose truck-idling bill last year helped to foster a dramatic improvement in truck turnaround times at California ports, has sponsored three additional port-related bills this year. One of the bills would encourage extended gate hours at marine terminals by setting a premium charge for trucks calling at the port during the daytime shift.

Los Angeles-Long Beach, like other large gateways in the Asian trade, are struggling to accommodate the doubling of container volume that is projected to occur by 2020. "The growth in freight movement has increased faster than our ability to manage it," said Genevieve Giuliano, director of the Metrans Transportation Center, a think tank of transportation experts sponsored by California State Long Beach and the University of Southern California.

The solutions that transportation interests are attempting to implement range from infrastructure expansion, such as adding truck lanes to the I-710 freeway that serves the ports, to operational changes that would spread cargo flows throughout the day.

Transportation interests are also attempting to shift thousands of truck moves each day to rail through greater use of on-dock rail and a pilot project to shuttle containers by rail from the harbor to an inland distribution center.

One of the most effective ways to reduce diesel pollution would be to encourage harbor truckers, many of whom operate pre-1984 trucks, to scrap their vehicles for low-polluting, modern generation trucks, said Thomas Warren, a Los Angeles harbor commissioner and past president of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63.

California has a program that pays a large percentage of the cost of new trucks, but the program is underfunded and to date only 210 of the estimated 6,000 pre-1984 trucks in the harbor area have been scrapped, Warren said.

Transportation interests said that although Los Angeles-Long Beach can not build its way out of its congestion problems, there is still a need to expand key infrastructure such as the I-710 freeway and outdated bridges in the harbor area.

Those comments generated criticism by Julie Masters, staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who said wider freeways would attract more truck traffic and would result in even more diesel emissions. She encouraged transportation interests to focus on shifting truck moves to rail.

Lowenthal said that reducing pollution from the port complex, which handled 11.8 million TEUs in 2003, calls for a comprehensive agenda including infrastructure development, operational changes and incentives to use lower-polluting equipment.

"There is no silver bullet," he said.