The year 2020. An overhead view of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach yields a geometric pattern of new man-made land arms, which give rise to new terminals that connect to train lines webbing out across Southern California. There's more traffic and congestion but also a lot of new business.
Flashback to 1987. The port expansion is still just a proposal, and port, city and other marine industry officials are wrestling with some sticky questions. They recently gathered at a two-day conference to determine whether existing facilities in Southern California can meet the needs of expected growth in trade.
Prospects are bright for continued trade growth. The flow of goods coming across the Pacific is expected to rise at a faster rate than the 4% growth projected for all U.S. trade, according to economists.
But the proposed expansion, called the 2020 Plan, is giving rise to three major concerns:
Whether the ports can grow fast enough to accommodate the increasing flow of goods.
The effects of increased truck and train traffic.
Environmental impact issues of land and air quality.
The 2020 plan calls for a three-phase buildup that would add as many as 27 acres of new landfilled areas and the capacity to handle 220 million short tons of cargo. The ports currently handle 60 million short tons and can accommodate up to 150 million short tons, according to Tony Shotwell, manager of market research at the Port of Long Beach.
Today, between 35% and 40% of all the cargo coming into Los Angeles and Long Beach is carried over land to points outside Southern California, according to Robert Kleist, a corporate adviser to the shipping firm of Evergreen International Corp. and president of the Los Angeles Steamship Assn.. That volume is expected to rise to 50% during the next few years.
To stay competitive with other West Coast ports, the ports in San Pedro Bay must develop greater and more efficient land access via truck and rail. One shipful of containers, for example, takes 15 trains to transport.
The expansion will affect not only the communities immediately surrounding the ports but the entire region, which is already tackling increased traffic and facing no-growth initiatives.
The issue of inland traffic accessibility for ports is complicated by the projected growth of Southern California. The population of the six-county area is expected to rise to 18.2 million from the current 12 million, according to the Southern California Assn. of Governments, a nonprofit research group. Three million more jobs are expected to be created by the end of the century, and more commuters are expected to be on the road.
James Gosnell, director of transportation planning at SCAG, says that raises the possibility of 450 miles of congestion. He said if various government agencies and cities do not make changes to accommodate the port traffic, the region faces a potential loss of $46 billion in gross sales of services and goods by the year 2000.
Planning for the port expansion is entering its environmental impact study phase. Expanding the Port of Los Angeles, for example, will call for dredging the ocean floor to 70 feet from its current 40 feet. Long Beach would go to 76 feet. With increased traffic and stricter controls, air quality is also expected to be an issue.