Increased Use of California Ports Impacts Quality of Life

There is a “good new/bad news” scenario to importing and exporting products for those regions of the country that boast busy sea ports. Specifically in Southern California, the Long Beach Port manages trade valued annually at more than $100 billion, making it the second-busiest seaport in the United States. Yet, this prosperity significantly negative impacts the quality of life in Southern California.

Everything from clothing and bicycles to toys, furniture and clothing arrives at the Port before making its way to store shelves throughout the country. Specialized terminals also move petroleum, automobiles, lumber, steel and other products. A major economic force, the Port supports more than 320,000 careers and jobs in Southern California and 1.5C million jobs throughout the United States. It generates about $17 billion in annual trade-related wages statewide.

With a Green Port Policy sponsoring efforts to minimize or eliminate negative environmental impacts, the Port also is a driver for environmental programs. Acting as a model for ports around the world, the Port of Long Beach created such programs as the Green Flag vessel speed reduction air quality program, Green Leases with environmental covenants and the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan.
Obviously, products manufactured overseas (called outsourcing) need to be shipped to the United States and disseminated across the country. The most cost-efficient way to ship is by sea, where tons of goods move through regional ports, bringing more jobs but also huge traffic congestion and air quality issues.

This brings “Big Issues, big money with big impacts,” according to Art Leehy, the chief executive of the Orange County (California) Transportation Authority. He, along with many local and state leaders, is grappling with the impact on the infrastructure, environment and economy around Long Beach and the Los Angeles ports, since combined, are ranked fifth in the nation for dollars and tonnage shipped. There is even more concern in New York (the largest port in the nation), Texas, Illinois and New Jersey, who all outrank Orange County in traffic through their ports.

“It’s a regional source of money,” and “Today it provides jobs to the region,” say some of the proponents. However, on the negative side, it increases traffic and congestion on the freeways, and local roads as well as the railways. There is more noise and air pollution, potentially unsafe railroad crossings, and huge costs involved in maintaining the roads and/or widening freeways to support the additional traffic.

Municipal, as well as state leaders struggle to find ways to mitigate this negative impact on residents by concentrating on ways to improve the quality of life. Some of these enhancements are grade separations, quiet zones, and safer rail crossings. All these efforts help the situation, but in addition, counties need to work with more synergy to continue to develop ways to improve the situation for those communities experiencing heavy movement of cargo.

According to experts, this will continue to be a problem, due to the growth pattern over the past several years. There is an increase in international trade and less manufacturing in the United States. Driving this scenario, simply put, is an increase in consumer consumption. We, as a nation, consume too much and it is not likely to change in the future.