Mitigation, collaboration keys to successful goods movement

Flat screen TVs and laptops, ties and T-shirts, lawn furniture and ceiling fans. By the millions, container ships bring these and other goods each year into the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. The number of containers landing at the ports – more than 14 million last year – continues to increase annually. With a rise in international trade, the forecast is for steady growth that could result in 43 million containers hitting our ports by 2030.

The ports are without question an economic engine that help drive prosperity. More than $200 billion worth of goods transiting Southern California’s ports generates more than $15 billion in state and local taxes and provides at least 500,000 jobs in trucking, railroads, warehousing, etc. In fact, one in every seven California jobs is related to the trade industries and logistics.
We recognize expanding our infrastructure is essential to maintaining the region’s economic growth and competitiveness. However, we’re at serious risk of becoming victims of our own success. To ensure our future quality of life,what’s even more essential is that the impacts of expansion are properly mitigated.

Looking at some numbers, the problem becomes clear. Approximately one-third ofall U.S. container traffic comes through Southern California. Of that, more than 60 percent heads to other parts of the country via our railways and highways. As a gateway for trade, local communities are paying the price through poor air quality, train-whistle noise, freeway congestion and rail crossing backups.

The numbers also are alarming in terms of what effects goods movement is having on the health of Californians. The Air Resources Board attributes 2,400 deaths annually in the state to goods movement-related emissions. By 2020, the cost of health care will be an estimated $200 billion because of those emissions.

Continued economic growth must not be the overriding factor considered when developing a statewide goods-movement policy. Addressing community impacts is a critical element to preserving the quality of life we have come to enjoy. This will not be an easy or quick task. It will be a true test of political will and patience on the part of policy makers and public officials throughout the state.

Serving as a bridge between Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, Orange County has a significant level of goods-movement traffic. Currently, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad line between Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties carries an estimated 70 daily freight trains through northern Orange County, hitting the cities of Yorba Linda, Anaheim, Buena Park, Fullerton and Placentia. By 2025, 150 trains a day are expected to use the line.

Orange County has 64 rail crossings with 19 that need to be grade separated to keep traffic flowing. Total project costs are estimated at more than $910 million.

Given the county’s well-developed freeway system, truck volumes also will continue to grow by an estimated 80 percent by 2025 and approximately $1.5 billion in improvements are needed to meet goods-movement demand.

The issues surrounding goods movement are daunting, but efforts are underway on a regional and statewide basis to tackle them before the train gets too far down the tracks. To meet Orange County’s goods-movement-related needs, it will take an estimated nearly $2.5 billion to either implement projects or mitigate them.

The OCTA will aggressively pursue public dollars from state and federal sources, such as the $3.1 billion set aside for goods movement from the $19.9 billion bond measure Proposition 1B, approved by voters in November. On the private side, owners and operators involved in goods movement should be expected to contribute.

Mitigating the infrastructure impacts throughout Southern California comes with a staggering price tag. The Southern California Association of Governments estimates $26 billion is needed and it will cost at least an estimated $10 billion to fully mitigate the impacts of goods-movement related diesel usage.

In January, the state released the Goods Movement Action Plan, outlining a strategy to address economic and environmental issues. On a local level, the Orange County Transportation Authority has been a leader working with neighboring counties and agencies to develop a strategy that will deliver solutions to the region. Southern California’s role in international trade is one that we can all take pride in but we must work together to ensure its impact on our future is a positive one.

The decisions to implement a goods movement policy cannot be made in a vacuum. Washington, Sacramento and the business community must join with local and regional officials in a collaborative effort to help meet the growth movement challenges that confronts us.

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