September 27, 2008

Signing of Port Cargo Fee Bill Urged

By Kevin Smith

LONG BEACH - Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and a host of Southland port, air quality and transportation leaders are urging Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign a bill aimed at reducing air pollution and traffic congestion from the movement of goods at the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland.

The group held a news conference Friday in Long Beach in support of Senate Bill 974, which was introduced by Lowenthal. The legislation would impose a $30 fee on cargo containers moving through the ports.

It's estimated that the fee would generate $350 million a year (based upon loaded container use) for improvements in air-quality and goods-movement

infrastructure in California, and most

of the money would be spent in Southern California.

"The goods movement sector of transportation is growing at a tremendous pace, and the ability of the San Pedro Bay ports to finance essential upgrades to freight infrastructure is vital to the health of our regional economy," Lowenthal said in a statement.

"This bill allows Southern California ports to continue to meet burgeoning trade demands, and we look forward to working with a growing list of supporters for its enactment next year."

The amount of container volume moving through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is expected to nearly triple to more than 42.5 million 20-foot equivalent units by 2030.

And the ripple effects of that massive movement of goods is going to made an already stressed situation worse, according to San Gabriel Mayor Harry Baldwin.

"Union Pacific wants to put another train track in the northern end of the San Gabriel Valley and another one in the southern end," said Baldwin, vice president of the Southern California Association of Governments and a member of the board of directors of the Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority.

"We already have safety problems with ambulances and fire services getting through. If a train is on the tracks and stops ... there is no other way you can do it."

Half of the Southern California funds are scheduled for air- quality improvements that would be overseen by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

The remaining money would be divided up among Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties for up to 130 grade separations and a pilot project to study the use of zero-emission technology to move containers from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Some container fee proposals have already been implemented at the ports, but SB 974 adopts a more "systemic," statewide approach to the problem while improving the environment at the same time, according to Long Beach mayor Bob Foster.

"It contains a decent amount of funding for grade separations throughout the region and for safety and traffic congestion," he said. "The good thing about this is we're doing something smart and right by looking at the goods-movement system as a whole."

SB 974 has been approved by the state Legislature and is awaiting approval by Schwarzenegger.

Industry lobbyists, including the California Retailers Association, oppose the bill because of the additional money it would cost to ship products.

Analysts have said the cost to consumers would be minimal, likely pennies per product.

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