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Plan Aims to Reduce Truck Congestion at Ports

August 22, 2004|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

Truck traffic around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach could ease under a plan forged by terminal operators to open their gates for shipping during off-peak hours.

Last year, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn asked industry officials to consider operating around the clock to help thin out congestion and reduce pollution from trucks moving cargo.

Marine terminal operators, truckers, cargo owners and labor representatives met for months to devise a solution.

Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal (D-Long-Beach), who has sponsored legislation calling for limiting emissions at the port, pushed the parties toward an agreement by introducing a bill that sought a fee for truck transport during the busy hours between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Under the deal, terminal operators at the complex will charge a fee to companies, such as Wal-Mart and Target, that own the goods being trucked. The fee, $40 per 40-foot container, will subsidize the cost of additional labor to keep the gates open late and on weekends.

To encourage cargo owners to ship during off-peak hours, the fee will be waived during those times.

Lowenthal, Hahn and other officials plan to announce details of the deal Monday.

"It's historic," Hahn said Saturday. "Eleven million containers are coming into these port complexes annually and it's expected to triple in 20 years, but we have no plans to build more freeways and bridges. So this is a short-term solution to reduce congestion and pollution."

The port complex is the biggest single air polluter in the Los Angeles region, leading harbor-area residents to dub it "the diesel death zone."

In 1999, a study by the South Coast Air Quality Management District found the lifetime cancer risk from air pollution around the port exceeded 2,000 cases per million people.

Federal, state and local agencies typically regulate facilities with the goal of reducing the cancer risk to between 1 and 100 cases per million.

Truck traffic through the ports -- an estimated 35,000 trips per day -- routinely clogs the Long Beach Freeway and other arteries. Cargo volume is rising, meanwhile, largely due to strong export trade from China. The boom has created cargo backlogs, which led the ports to stage a job lottery last week to find 3,000 temporary dockworkers.

"The amount of cargo being moved is beyond anyone's wildest dreams," Lowenthal said. Expanding the operating hours for the two ports is "a first step to stabilize an out-of-control situation," he said. "It will give us a little breathing room because the growth is so spectacular."

Times staff writer Deborah Schoch contributed to this report.

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