Infrastructure Needs to Keep Pace with Surging Cargo at SoCal Ports

Dec. 8, 2020
“The unprecedented cargo resurgence has put a strain on trucking and rail lines, with containers coming in faster than the port can send them out.” — Gene Seroka, Executive Director, Port of Los Angeles
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The last quarter of 2020 has been a boon to Southern California’s San Pedro Bay Port Complex, with container volumes flooding in at recording-breaking levels, but new challenges have emerged alongside the historic surge.

North America’s busiest seaports broke cargo records in October:

  • Port of Los Angeles (POLA) – October 2020 marked the busiest month in the port’s 114-year history. Propelled by replenishment of inventories and retailers preparing for upcoming holidays, imports increased 29% compared to October 2019.
  • Port of Long Beach (POLB) –for the first time in its 109-year history, the port processed more than 800,000 cargo containers in October 2020. Trade was up 17% compared to the same month in 2019. This is the third time in 2020 that the port has broken an all-time record for cargo movements within a single month.

The October numbers are a sharp contrast to much of 2020 when the pandemic led to global shutdowns that caused a steep decline in business at both ports. But with these booming fourth-quarter numbers come new challenges, as congestion at the port complex and surrounding warehouses create delays in the supply chain. POLA Executive Director Gene Seroka said that the “unprecedented” cargo resurgence has “put a strain on trucking and rail lines, with containers coming in faster than the port can send them out.”

POLB Executive Director Mario Cordero has emphasized the importance of infrastructure upgrades to help the ports keep supply moving. Cordero, currently chairman of the Association of American Port Authorities, stresses that U.S. ports need more funding for infrastructure work.

Bridges: Cordero points to the recent opening of Long Beach’s Gerald Desmond Bridge as a major milestone in infrastructure improvements for the ports, noting that 15% of the nation’s loaded imports pass over it. The six-lane $1.47 billion structure replaced a 52-year-old bridge that was too narrow to accommodate today’s trucking demands.

Roads: POLA has been awarded a $9.88 million Port Infrastructure Development Program grant to help pay for intersection improvements at the heavily traveled interchange around the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro. The project will significantly reduce delays, accidents and emissions at the port complex.

Rail: Bolstering rail infrastructure is a key focus for the Long Beach port authority. Rail projects account for a large chunk of the authority’s $1.7 billion investment funds with the goal of increasing the share of cargo that passes by rail. Next in the pipeline is an $870m project for an on-dock rail support facility. The project will enhance the port’s connectivity to inland distribution centers and will increase traffic moving through the Alameda Corridor.

Technology: Digitization is another strategic plank for the ports. POLA is using two new digital tools to provide more real-time information to those who need to move and transport the cargo as quickly as possible. One tool gives the supply chain community a three-week view of cargo arriving into the port for planning purposes, and the other lets the trucking community know when and where they can return containers, with the goal of encouraging dual transactions.

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach remain open with all terminals operational during the COVID-19 pandemic. San Pedro Bay port complex operations and commerce facilitate one in nine jobs across the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura.