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‘We’re going to be aggressive’: Newsom vows LA, Long Beach ports will get ‘fair share’ of infrastructure bill dollars

Local, state and federal leaders clap as California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks on the supply chain crisis and the role of the recent infrastructure bill in alleviating congestion at the ports Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday joined local, state and federal officials at the Port of Long Beach for a press briefing regarding the historic infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden earlier this week.

During his remarks, Newsom pointed to decades of underinvestment in California’s ports at all levels and vowed that the ports, particularly in Long Beach and Los Angeles, would get their fair share of funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“We’d like to get all $17 billion, but we’re not naive,” Newsom said, referring to the portion of the funding that’s been allocated for ports and waterways nationwide. The Port of Savannah, Newsom said, has received far more federal funding than California ports over the last decade, despite the Golden State’s much higher cargo volumes.

“In many respects, that’s on us,” Newsom continued. “No more. We are going to be front and center. We’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to be bold, and we’re going to demand our fair share of investment.”

The twin ports of LA and Long Beach are the busiest in the country, bringing in 40% of U.S. imports.

“For too long we have seen money generated by these ports exported to other states and other parts of America,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday. “It is time for Washington to help us spend that money right here. It’s not just good for Los Angeles and Long Beach; it is good for America.”

The facilities are at the heart of a global supply chain crisis that has upward of 83 container ships idling off the California coast, waiting their turn at one of the ports. Funding from the infrastructure bill will be used on projects to reinforce operations at the ports, including on-dock rail, roads, electrification and more.

“We have the infrastructure of what our grandparents had,” ILWU International President Willie Adams said. “I hope everyone understands the gravity of this moment.”

John Porcari, port envoy to the Biden administration, speaks about the supply chain crisis during a press briefing at the Port of Long Beach Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

During the press event, Newsom touted some efforts already made at the state level to address the ongoing supply chain bottleneck beyond the ports themselves, including the announcement of temporary permits to increase truck weight limits from 80,000 pounds to 88,000 pounds through June 30, 2022.

Newsom said the state has identified 42 sites that could potentially be used for container storage, further alleviating congestion on docks. There were three criteria for the sites, Newsom said: They had to be powered, at least 3 acres and within 100 miles of the port complex.

The governor also touted the Nov. 10 announcement that the California Department of Motor Vehicles extended operating hours at 15 locations—mostly in Southern California—allowing the state to nearly double the number of monthly commercial driving tests, from 5,000 to 9,700.

In addition to funding for ports and waterways, Newsom said the state also is receiving $25.3 billion for highways, $4.5 billion for bridges and $3.5 billion for water and sewage infrastructure.

“What we’re seeing here is success—the men and women that are working these ports are doing unprecedented amounts of work at unprecedented speed and scale,” Newsom said. The current crisis “is not because they are not doing an extraordinary job. It’s because of extraordinary demand.”

Wednesday’s press event came the day after U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg joined Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka for a virtual press briefing on the same topic. During the briefing, Seroka said the Port of LA handled about 900,000 20-foot equivalent units—the standard measure of shipping containers—in October, an 8% decline from a year before, which was one of the busiest months in the port’s 114-year history.

The Port of Long Beach also recently announced that last month was its second-busiest October on record, having handled just under 790,000 TEUs.

Local leaders listen as Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the supply chain crisis Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. From left: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Port of LA Executive Director Gene Seroka, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

During his briefing, Seroka said the twin ports’ announcement that it would charge shippers for containers that sit at docks for an excessive number of days has already resulted in a significant reduction. In LA, the number of containers that would fall under the penalty—the collection of which has been postponed multiple times—decreased 25%, from about 95,000 in late October to 71,000.

According to Port of Long Beach data, the number of containers has decreased 27% from over 30,000 to about 18,500, as of Wednesday.

Seroka noted that only about one-third of the ships idling off the coast are the traditional transpacific vessels that would call on the ports. The other two-thirds are newcomers to the transpacific route, having been shifted from other routes and services to take advantage of the surge.

Many of the newcomers are arriving at ports without an appointment, which is partially to blame for the backlog of ships. For LA, ships are waiting an average of 16 days to dock, spokesman Phillip Sanfield said in an email.

Sweeper ships—vessels that arrive at the ports empty with the sole purpose of picking up empty containers—have been used increasingly to clear docks at both ports, officials confirmed. The ships make way for incoming containers and allowing empties to be redirected to Asia more quickly for the next round of imports.

Within the next 45 days, the federal government is going to announce $230 million in funding from the existing Port Infrastructure Development Grant Program, Buttigieg said. And within 90 days, the government will open the first round of funding from the new infrastructure bill, he added.

Buttigieg said the trucking industry needs an overhaul for the future of the supply chain to be strong.

“We’ve got to make truck driving a more attractive and more well-paid profession,” Buttigieg said. “We’ve been engaging the trucking industry since the summer to highlight practices we think could reduce those very high turnover levels that we’re seeing.”

The secretary also touted the BNSF Railway and United Pacific Railroad rebates that incentivize shippers to bring cargo into their San Pedro Bay terminals on weekends, which are historically slower than weekdays. The $50 rebate is per container.

At the Port of Long Beach, meanwhile, Garcetti said the investment in the twin ports will have a widespread impact.

“These ports move California, but they also move America,” he said. “They are of national importance.”

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