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Transit Experts Urge Smarter Growth

Moving 'a tsunami of freight' through the ports, relieving traffic tie-ups and obtaining funding are seen as the region's challenges.

November 15, 2005|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

About 450 local officials and transportation experts gathered in Long Beach on Monday to discuss some of the region's biggest challenges: how to deal with traffic congestion, a lack of funding and the "tsunami of freight" coming through the region's ports in the years ahead.

The speakers at this year's "Mobility 21" summit at the Long Beach Convention Center highlighted the important national role played by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles -- which together handle 43% of the country's shipping cargo containers -- and the need for the federal government to help pay for the costs of expanding the region's freight transportation network. They also urged more high-density housing developments near transit stations to help accommodate population growth.

In the next 25 years, the region is expected to grow to 30 million people. That increased growth was a point that speakers repeatedly returned to.

"We've got to get serious about traffic and congestion and mobility in the Los Angeles region," said L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is also chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a speaker at the event.

"The only way we're going to deal with gridlock, the congestion

The annual summit, sponsored by the MTA, Automobile Club of Southern California and Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, began four years ago as a way to unite the region's officials and transportation professionals so that they can work together to solve problems and lobby the federal government for funds.

At a panel discussion on transportation and the quality of life, participants decried urban sprawl and said government can intervene by creating incentives for the private sector to develop high-density housing.

"People are still chasing housing in far-out corridors, and it's taxing our infrastructure," said Thomas DiPrima, chairman of the Golden State Gateway Coalition, a group of community and business leaders focused on improving Interstate 5.

"We've got to have some fight on stopping this. Builders are very creative and willing to do the right thing. We have to give them the opportunity to be creative."

Down the hall, participants at a session on transportation and the global economy spoke of the need for the region to accommodate the flood of cargo coming through the ports, which is already jamming freeways with big-rig traffic.

"I see a tsunami of freight coming through the West Coast of the United States," said Pete Ruane, president and chief executive of the American Road and Transportation Builders Assn., predicting a loss of competitiveness if the region does nothing about the ports' transportation needs.

Last year, Los Angeles County's two ports handled 13 million containers, said John Husing, vice president of Redlands-based Economics and Politics Inc., a consulting firm that has studied the topic for the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

By 2020, the ports face an onslaught of about 36 million containers a year.

"The whole rail system in Southern California is reaching capacity. The trucks are overwhelmed," said Husing, who also has worked as a consultant for the Tribune Co., which owns The Times, on growth strategies in the Inland Empire.

Some solutions, he said, include building toll lanes for trucks and upgrading the region's rail network with more underpasses and overpasses.

Officials also urged officials in the region to work together to lobby the federal government for funding.

"Despite having more than 12% of the nation's population, [Californians] get 9.3% of federal highway expenditures," said Tim Ransdell, executive director of the California Initiative for Federal Policy.

At the same time, he added, "the federal transportation programs barely touch the freight movement issue."

Villaraigosa said it is important for the region to get its "fair share."

"It's outrageous that we're not getting [the funding] we deserve when you look at the gridlock," he said.

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