The only way to quickly relieve the daytime truck traffic that chokes the Long Beach Freeway and endangers commuters is to expand hours of operation at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. It's harder than it sounds, but a special panel of civic leaders, shippers and retailers are close to agreeing on a plan that could reduce truck trips during peak travel periods by as much as 40%. But first the panel itself must punch through a patch of gridlock.
The logistics for achieving this fix are formidable, involving the coordination of ocean freighters, dockworkers, trucking companies and the warehouses where goods are delivered.
Most panel members agree that charging higher fees to move goods by day is the best incentive for shippers to switch to nights and weekends. But one sticking point is whether the higher fees would hurt small and medium shippers that, unlike the big Wal-Marts, can't afford to order warehouses to stay open for night or weekend deliveries.
A way out of this jam would be to offer another alternative: Use the income generated by higher trucking fees to subsidize shipping by rail. The year-old Alameda Corridor rail line from the ports to downtown Los Angeles is moving only about a third of the ports' containers; it was intended to move half. Many shippers are unwilling to pay to send a container by rail only as far as downtown. Plans are underway to extend a rail spur east to Inland Empire warehouses, but that is years away.