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.

  • Derek

    A freeway that’s frequently congested is a mismanaged one. Why throw more lanes at the problem? Isn’t that the definition of insanity, to do something over and over again while expecting a different result?

    HOT lanes solve the congestion problem.

  • DJB

    A slow recovery might delay widening plans, but it won’t stop them forever without better ideas and the power to implement them.

    I think demand-based highway pricing (of existing lanes!) has a lot of potential, IF the money ISN’T used to expand the road system. This works as an incentive to ship cargo by rail or by truck during off-peak hours. Managing a scarce resource like highway space without prices has proven itself to be a total failure. We know the results: gridlock and widening proposal after widening proposal.

    The trick is what to do about the traffic that spills onto surface streets when highways are priced. Pricing surface streets as well via some sort of transponder system seems like the long-term solution (VMT tax).

    Prices are the ultimate incentive to conserve a scarce resource. Only give something away if you want people to use a lot of it.

  • limit

    Short sighted fellows expand the truck route.

    Interestingly, just today I was working on an interrelated project in regard to the rail – the future expansion of the yard and how that will relate to the various truck route alternatives. Just a cool coincidence.

  • “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.”

    Uhhh, what? The American economy has been a disaster in the last year. Those elements which had large amounts of foreign investment in it actually helped take down European economies.