By JOHN R. McLAURIN
Where are the ports really headed? What are we to make of the different port trucking proposals now moving ahead at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach? Perhaps the better question is this: As competitors all around us continue to invest in port infrastructure, and while port improvement projects here languish in a quagmire of uncertainty, what is the future of trade at the San Pedro Bay ports?
The L.A.-Long Beach port complex, the largest in the United States, will always have a localized market serving the 25 million-plus Southern Californians. But the ports have not been able to turn the corner and approve the new port infrastructure that will truly enable the ports to "grow green."
Beyond the ongoing threats from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Teamsters to "challenge each new port improvement project" is the sad irony that every one of these projects is going to result in more efficient port operations that reduce pollution and congestion. Whether it is near-dock rail projects or marine terminal improvements, the new infrastructure in and around the ports is critically necessary to the continued competitiveness of the Southern California ports.
Without immediate and sustained progress in improving the infrastructure capacity around the ports, we will see a continued share of long-haul freight leave Southern California for other ports taking investment and job growth with it. The unfortunate reality is that the ability to move long-distance freight through the San Pedro Bay ports, in large measure, will define not only our future competitiveness, but whether the ports will truly "green" their operations through new investment.
There is a lot at stake here for everyone concerned about cleaner and more efficient port operations. According to the ports' own recent economic impact study, implementation of a truck concession plan, such as the one considered at the Port of Los Angeles, would greatly reduce competition, raise drayage rates by 80 percent, and force small- and medium-size motor carriers out of business. With at least 1,300 licensed motor carriers and 16,000-plus independent owner-operator drivers serving the ports, these economic impacts would be devastating. This concession model works to emphasize reregulating the Southern California labor market over cleaning up our air: For instance, an independent trucker driving the cleanest truck on the road will not be allowed to serve the ports, but a dirtier truck driven by an employee driver will be.
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