Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Regional Report: San Pedro Bay Ports Cooperate on the Environment


June 1, 2019

With a strong first quarter and seven straight months of 800,000-plus TEUs, Los Angeles is working on various projects designed to handle the extra volume coming from larger ships. Photo courtesy of the Port of Los Angeles.

With 40 percent of US imports from Asia moving through their ports, it's easy to see why the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the busiest seaport complex in the nation. Their proximity to Asia and their ability to handle today's big ships are two of the biggest advantages for the twin ports.

But with other ports looking to compete and trade issues between the US and China lingering, the Southern California seaports refuse to rest on their laurels. Each is investing millions to build and improve its infrastructure in an effort to make operations cleaner, more efficient and more attractive to customers.

And while both compete for cargo, Los Angeles and Long Beach come together to work on various matters, including security and the environment. Most recently, the two ports are moving forward with the implementation of the 2017 Clean Air Action Plan Update. The first truck feasibility study has been completed, while a similar study for cargo-handling equipment is being finalized, said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero.

"The studies are not meant to conclude which technologies must be used, but to take a snapshot of the state of the clean air technologies and the infrastructure needs for reaching our clean goals," Cordero said. "It makes sense for us to collaborate on issues of the environment and security, and we do so.

Here's a look at what's been going on at the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports:

Port of Los Angeles

With a strong first quarter in 2019 and seven straight months of 800,000-plus TEUs, the nation's busiest seaport has been working with terminal operators on various projects designed to handle the extra volume coming from larger ships, which are already arriving in Los Angeles.

This year, a 20,000 TEU MSC ship called at APM Terminals, as well as 18,000 TEU ships at other terminals, said Michael DiBernardo, deputy executive director of marketing and customer relations at the Port of Los Angeles.

He ticked off a number of projects, including additional rail loading capacity and wharf dredging at Yusen Terminals that took place last year and a similar project happening at the Evergreen terminal this year.

Terminal operators are also raising their cranes, including APM Terminals, where they are in the process of raising 10 of their 18 cranes.

The port is currently conducting some environmental assessments for the COSCO facility and for the Ying Ming terminal to replace the current wharf with a deeper one, DiBernardo said. Meanwhile, the port is also working on some roadway infrastructure in order to get traffic easily in and out of the port. On the west side of the Vincent Thomas Bridge, there's an off-ramp project to get trucks off the bridge and closer to the terminal. In addition, there are some storage track rail projects for West Basin and APM Terminal, allowing them to store railcars as they wait for arriving trains.

Port officials have also been working to improve supply chain efficiency on a digital level. Since rolling out the Port Optimizer earlier this year, the port has been busy bringing all the terminals in L.A. and most of the terminals in Long Beach on board the digital platform, which allows stakeholders to forecast cargo arrivals as many as two weeks in advance so the supply chain can better prepare.

"A trucking company can go in there, look at all the cargo they need to pick up - no matter if it's for Walmart, Target, Home Depot - they could see it all in one site," DiBernardo said. "Even a cargo owner - if he has cargo on multiple shipping lines, he could see it all in one view as well. So great line of sight there.".

The digital platform also helps chassis providers and rail carriers plan how much equipment is needed at the terminals for arriving ships, he said.

Adding an appointment model into the optimizer will be the next step, "so everybody can make an appointment on the portal as opposed to going to the different websites of the terminals to make appointments," DiBernardo said.

The port will continue that theme of efficiency in the coming year.

"On the cargo side, I think what we'd like to see is how do we get trucks turn times down?" he said, adding that it takes more than an hour for a trucker to pick up a container. The port wants to push more for the peel off piles to get cargo out as a solution.

"We would also like to look at opportunities to move cargo to an off-dock yard closer to where the cargo is going to go," DiBernardo said, pointing out the San Bernardino-Ontario area where there are a lot of distribution centers about 60 miles away from the port.

"There are opportunities to create an inland container yard where you dray the containers that are all destined to that area," he said. From there, a different set of trucking companies could pick up those containers and take them to their final destination. The port is also looking into new technology to provide trucking services to create more round trip opportunities.

Lastly, the port will continue to tackle the chassis issue by moving them out of terminals and putting them in a centralized location. "The reason for that is: No. 1, you free up space in the terminal, and No. 2, you put it in a centralized location so that they don't have to dray their chassis to different terminals as they're needed, so there's no need for bare chassis moves (and) that saves on truck trips and emissions."

Port of Long Beach

Like its Los Angeles neighbor, the Port of Long Beach saw a significant amount of cargo in part because of tariffs. In 2018, the Long Beach port exceeded 8 million TEUs for the first time in its history, with cargo increasing by more than 7 percent.

"The Port of Long Beach has had two record years in a row, in part because we're astride the most important trade link between Asia and the United States," Cordero said. "We have maintained market share over the last few years, even as other ports fiercely compete with us for business.

Increasing economic activity and consumer demand increased Long Beach's cargo numbers, as well as the 2018 tariffs. "(Tariffs) also increased our imports, as businesses shipped goods ahead of higher tariffs," he said. "In particular there was a surge in cargo in December and January. I believe the United States and China will be able to resolve their differences and trade will continue.

Meanwhile, the port is looking at business opportunities. "We see opportunities in expanding markets such as Southeast Asia, in places like Vietnam, and Latin America," Cordero said. "There are also opportunities in finding new markets for US exports, and North American seaports will certainly compete for the additional exports, whether it be plastic resin or agricultural products or other goods.

On the infrastructure front, the port is busy. One of its largest projects in the $1.467 billion Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement project, which is progressing toward a 2020 completion as the port enters the project's final phase. That phase involves building the connector ramps, a new undercrossing and completing the center span, Cordero said. About 15 percent of containerized imports into the US move on trucks over the Gerald Desmond Bridge, which opened in 1968, he said.

Another major construction project at the port is the Long Beach Container Terminal, where crews are building the final 100 acres of the 300-plus acre facility. Construction began in 2011, with the first phase of LBCT opening in 2016. It is expected to be completed in 2021.

"The new terminal is already the greenest, most technologically advanced terminal in the US," Cordero said. "The 10-year, $1.49 billion modernization project adds on-dock rail capacity, shore power hook-ups and a 4,200-foot-long wharf. At full build-out, the new terminal will be able to move twice the cargo with less than half the air pollution of the two terminals it replaces.

The port also is investing $1 billion for on-dock rail projects. About 25 percent of Long Beach's cargo moves by on-dock rail and the port wants to increase that percentage to at least 35 percent, Cordero said.

The biggest rail project planned is the $870 million Pier B On-Dock Rail Support Facility, scheduled to start construction in 2022 and be completed in 2032. The project will allow for the assembly of longer trains and shift more cargo to on-dock rail, dramatically bolster the speed of cargo moving through the port, Cordero said.

Another cargo movement-boosting project, the Pier G-J Double Track Access project, will add a second rail line between Piers G and J, about 9,000 feet long.

There is also the Terminal Island Wye Realignment Project, which will reduce switching conflicts by adding a new lead track on Pier T and two new storage tracks on Pier S. The port plans to seek construction bids for that project in early 2020.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are moving forward with the implementation of the 2017 Clean Air Action Plan Update, and have completed the first truck feasibility study. Photo courtesy of the Port of Los Angeles.

Also, the port in March began an operational closure of the 9th Street at-grade rail crossing, allowing longer trains to be built with more frequency and the rail system more efficient. "Rail projects like these will allow for the more rapid movement of cargo through the Harbor and allow terminals handling the biggest ships to move cargo faster," Cordero said.

Priorities for the port this year and the coming year will focus on the completion of its biggest projects, including the replacement of the Gerald Desmond Bridge and the project at Long Beach Container Terminal and the big move to its new headquarters, an 11-story office building, designed to LEED Gold standards, that replaces the Port's Interim Administrative Offices near the Long Beach Airport.

The port is also investing $1 billion in rail system upgrades, Cordero said. "Rail allows us to move Asia imports to all the major US markets significantly faster than cargo routed through Gulf and East coast ports," he said. "It's a big part of what we call our 'operational excellence' - providing customers with cargo movement that is predictable, reliable, efficient and fast."


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