U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and other local, state and federal representatives spoke Friday at the Port of Long Beach about the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act and how it will address the supply chain crisis gripping the San Pedro Bay ports and the rest of the country.
Passed by the Senate on Aug. 10 and the House on Nov. 5, the $1 trillion infrastructure bill includes $17 billion for the nation’s ports and waterways, including the heavily congested ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill Monday, the White House announced earlier this week.
“Container traffic has recently been snarled but it’s a reminder of how the logistics and challenges that we are experiencing are not just impacting us here locally but, frankly, around the world,” Padilla said during the press conference.
“The global pandemic exposed the importance and urgency of modernizing our ports,” Padilla added, saying the congestion is impacting businesses and consumers.
The infrastructure bill will be used to fund a slew of projects at the nation’s ports, including rail and bridge updates and expansion, road improvements, worker training, equipment, on-dock electrification, climate change resiliency, truck emission reduction and more. Officials for the ports of Long Beach and LA previously identified rail as a top priority, noting that such projects take years to complete.
Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragán, California State Transportation Agency Secretary David Kim, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and ILWU Local 13 President Ramon Ponce de Leon.
“This is a historic investment in infrastructure and a historic investment in ports,” Barragán said during the press conference. “And this couldn’t have come at a better time where we have the supply chain issues.”
During a Nov. 9 phone interview with the Business Journal, a senior White House official said the San Pedro Bay ports are well-positioned to be awarded a sizable share of the funding due to their importance for the U.S. economy.
“Every single part of this nation should want to see investments into the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles,” Mayor Robert Garcia said during Friday’s press conference, noting that the twin ports bring in 40% of the nation’s imports. “Folks in places like Oklahoma and Ohio and Pennsylvania should be looking at investments here to benefit those communities.”
“Our top priority here at [the ports] is making sure folks have … their Christmas presents, that people are able to go to the store and get what they need—getting these goods off containers, onto shelves across the country,” Garcia added.
Congestion at the ports began last year in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted long-standing issues within various sections of the supply chain. Port closures in China coupled with a shift in purchasing to more e-commerce has been setting records at the Long Beach and LA ports almost every month after an initial slowdown at the start of the pandemic.
Container ships sitting idle off the California coast, waiting for their turn to dock, has become the norm. On average, ships are waiting 10 days, Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said during an Oct. 27 virtual press conference. On Wednesday, there were 79 container ships at anchor or adrift off the coast, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.
The San Pedro Bay ports already have taken steps in an attempt to ease the backlog of ships and containers, including a pilot program at Long Beach’s Pier T that expanded operations to 24 hours a day Monday through Thursday. The complex also has initiated a surcharge for containers that sit at the port for extended periods of time, a move that appears to already be seeing results.
On Nov. 1, over 30,000 containers in Long Beach fell under the new penalty’s guidelines (sitting on dock for nine or more days if being moved by truck or more than six days if being moved by rail). As of Friday, that number had fallen to less than 18,000, a 32% decrease, according to port data.
The city also suspended a section of its municipal code to allow shipping containers to be stacked higher in areas located almost exclusively in West and North Long Beach industrial zones. During its Nov. 9 meeting, the City Council formally approved the emergency order issued by City Manager Tom Modica on Oct. 22.
During the press conference, Padilla also used the opportunity to advocate for the Build Back Better Act, saying he and Barragán are pushing for additional port funding specifically for initiatives to reduce pollution.
“We have a historic opportunity,” Padilla said, to “promote environmental justice in our supply chain.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to say the infrastructure bill includes $17 billion for ports and waterways.