Forecast for Ports Is Low, What Does That Mean for Widenings?

This morning's Times brought the grim economic news that traffic at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are struggling.  In fact, the ports have lost the momentum that brought them to annual record highs traffic numbers as recently as 2006.  In fact, the soonest the ports can expect to reach the 2006 numbers would be 2013, and that's a best case scenario.

When the case is made for the two gigantic highway expansion projects; the main reason cited is the gigantic increase in truck traffic that can be expected because of the growth of the ports.  Communities need to be protected from truck traffic, the argument goes, so we need to widen highways to accommodate those trucks and keep them off local streets.  For more information on the two I-710 projects, check out the two stories listed here in July of 2009.

Now we see that those projections, the ones that show new records of port traffic every year into the foreseeable future are inaccurate.  As you might have predicted, this has reality has no impact on port experts expectation that the local highways need to be widenend.

A lull in what had once seemed to be never-ending growth in our local freight industry should have provided a chance to relax the constant push for highway expansion and push a rail reinvestment plan.  Last month, Melissa Lin Perrella made the same cast at the NRDC's Switchboard.  Perella notes that these highway projects have a deadly effect on air quality of the people that live through the ports and throughout Long Beach:

The proposed SCIG and UP Expansion projects are hotly contested because they create an incompatible land use problem where highly industrial, highly polluting activities occur right next to homes, schools, daycare centers, parks and churches.  USC and UCLA have documented especially high levels of pollution near sources of traffic (such as freeways and railyards).  And USC's studies show that children living near heavy traffic pollution are more likely to have asthma and reduced lung function.  Adults are at risk, too.  The California Air Resources Board found that railyards--including the UP facility--create elevated cancer risks for nearby residents because of all of the polluting trains and trucks that visit those facilities. 

One thing that has made the American economy such a powerhouse over the last year is because it has always adjusted to changing circumstances and turn negative situations into positive ones.  For some reason, we seem unable to think of a transportation system beyond one dominated by cars and trucks, even as the costs of the oil based economy becomes more and more expensive.  The slowing of our import and export markets provide a chance to invest in cleaning and greening the network with which we move freight.  Unfortunately, we seem to be missing this opportunity.