Cargo backlog creates maritime and land traffic problems
LOS ANGELES – An area of Los Angeles just outside the country’s busiest port complex has become a perpetual traffic jam, with trucks carrying cargo containers backed up day and night as workers try to overcome an unprecedented backlog of ships awaiting unloading.
About 40% of all shipping containers entering the United States pass through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The congestion of ships interrupted the global supply chain and prompted the Biden administration last week to allow the port complex to operate around the clock to try to unload cargo and deliver it to consumers.
Since then, residents of the Wilmington neighborhood, just north of the ports, have complained that trucks are backing up the streets at all hours. Meanwhile, freight companies running out of space to store containers unloaded from ships are piling them up outside overcrowded warehouses and in parking lots.
This week, a container slipped from a truck making a turn on a narrow street, crushing a parked car. No one was injured, but local officials say that with so many trucks crammed into a small area, it was an accident waiting to happen.
“It’s becoming a safety issue,” said Jacob Haik, deputy chief of staff to LA city councilor Joe Buscaino, who represents the working-class neighborhood. Haik said the city would start issuing citations to companies that stack containers dangerously or have trucks clog the streets.
As of Tuesday, 63 ships were moored at the two ports and 96 waiting to dock and unload, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California which oversees port vessel traffic. On Monday, the number of ships waiting to enter ports hit a record 100.
Sonia Cervantes, a resident of Wilmington, said her driveway was blocked by a truck as she tried to leave for work at 6:30 a.m. Her whole neighborhood was fed up with traffic, she said.
“It’s a bunch of neighbors who are very upset because it’s a non-stop situation,” Cervantes told CBS LA.
Maria Arrieran, who owns the UCTI trucking company with her husband, Frank, said she sympathizes with the community, but the truck traffic is a result of limited container storage.
“It’s an ongoing problem. We’re just trying to get these truckers in and out, ”she said Wednesday. “I am literally on the streets directing traffic.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order Wednesday to reduce the backlog. He asked California government agencies to look for state-owned properties that could temporarily store cargo entering ports. Newsom, a Democrat, has asked the state’s General Service Department to review potential sites by December 15.
He also ordered the Governor’s Office of Trade and Economic Development to examine other properties not owed by the state, such as private or local plots, which could also be used for storage, although it does not did not give a timetable for this review.
Newsom’s order is a start, Haik said, but he urged the governor to also allow cities to facilitate changing zoning rules. The city has identified several port-owned plots that could be quickly paved and turned into storage sites if there was no existing paperwork, he said.
“The lots are quite small. But if you could put 10 or 12 lots and put 40 containers on each one, that’s 500 containers, ”said Haik. “It’s a serious relief.”
Further relief could come by diverting cargo traffic to the Port of Oakland. Mayor Libby Schaaf told KRON-TV on Wednesday that his city’s port “currently has spare capacity” and Oakland can “take some of these ships out of your hands, LA”
A coalition of business groups including retailers, truckers, grocers and others said Wednesday that Newsom’s order does not go far enough.
“There are other real and tangible actions that the governor could take to face the present moment and face this crisis head-on, but convene working groups in 2022, delay urgent actions by at least a month and push the funding discussions on the January budget proposal do not. give the sense of urgency needed to face this crisis now, ”the coalition said in a letter.
The group urged Newsom to take drastic action, including suspending air quality rules governing truck emissions, allowing cities to remove bans on unloading goods at stores after hours and by speeding up authorization processes for warehouses.
Associated Press editor Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, Calif., Contributed to this report.