Remaking L.A. Into the New City of Big Shoulders

It’s being called the most important development of the next two decades for Southern California’s economy.

It promises to create 700,000 jobs and to generate billions of dollars in business development.

Yet most people, if they’ve heard of it at all, are vague on just what the Alameda Corridor is.

Well, it’s a 20-mile enlargement of railroad tracks and truck lanes to speed freight from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to the yards of the Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and Santa Fe railroads and from there out to the rest of the United States.


The Alameda Corridor is a necessary adjunct to a dramatic increase of trade through the ports in the coming decades--from $116 billion worth of goods this year to $253 billion worth by 2010.

And that growth of traffic in turn is projected to create almost three-quarters of a million jobs in the five-county Southern California region--with special emphasis on the 26 cities, some of them quite poor, of southeast Los Angeles County.

“Traffic is going to be two-way, with a lot of goods going from here to Asia too,” says Mayor Omar Bradley of Compton, who sees possibilities for an industrial park in his city and wants to make sure Compton--population 90,000--and other poor cities aren’t passed over in corridor planning.

But the very scale of projections and promises raises questions: If the Alameda Corridor is going to be such a boon, why aren’t the construction crews working day and night right now?

And what would happen if the corridor isn’t built?

Construction has only just begun--with an overpass crossing tracks at Carson and Alameda streets--because the $1.8-billion corridor project is still $700 million shy in financing.

The Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority, which includes officials of cities directly affected--Los Angeles, Vernon, Huntington Park, South Gate, Lynwood, Compton, Carson, Wilmington and Long Beach--as well as the ports, railroads and others, is pushing hard in Washington to have funds for the project included in new legislation.

That would allow construction to begin in earnest next year--doubling the rail tracks and digging a trench 32 feet deep from the Gardena Freeway (California 91) north to 25th Street to alleviate the effect of 100 trains a day and thousands of trucks speeding through congested areas. The project is scheduled to be completed by 2001.

Federal money is a linchpin for other funds. If $700 million from Washington assures construction of the corridor, $600 million would be raised through debt issues and repaid by fees on container traffic. The ports have already spent $400 million to buy rights-of-way on Alameda Street from the railroad companies. And the state of California has contributed $80 million in transportation development funds.

However, if federal money isn’t forthcoming--always a risk these days--growing congestion in Southern California could spell trouble for the region. Traffic through the ports is growing faster than the most optimistic forecasts of economists. But if expanded rail and truck lines aren’t built, shippers will begin to lose money through delays on the Long Beach and Harbor freeways, not to mention local streets. Then Seattle-Tacoma and other West Coast ports will lure the shippers’ business.

So it’s important that current efforts in Washington by California lawmakers--notably Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer--and representatives of local cities succeed.

The big payoff can be in jobs because the Alameda Corridor is far more than a high-speed rail project. To understand, it helps to realize that 50% of the freight moving through Los Angeles-Long Beach stays in this region because of Southern California’s huge home market. The rest goes to all corners of the United States, where companies in turn send exports to Asia back through this region. So this port assures an economical two-way trade.

And projections that port traffic will triple in the next 25 years promise a boom for the region.

The land adjacent to Alameda Street from Long Beach to the rail yards is capable of new industrial development. Some areas have been left with environmental problems from the decline of previous industries that served auto and steel makers.

That land can be rejuvenated for expanded warehousing and export-import servicing, says Patrick West, manager of the city of Paramount--population 53,000.

Paramount and the other communities in the organization of Southeast Los Angeles Cities have commissioned DRI-McGraw Hill to study the industrial opportunities that will come with the corridor and the growth of trade.

What West and Bradley and other public officials envision is a big-shouldered future for Los Angeles County, an industrial and trading city-state, focusing on a global port like London, New York, Tokyo (Yokohama) and Shanghai of old.

Such a vision is a different one for this region but it’s a healthy complement to Hollywood’s glamour and “Baywatch’s” surf and romance.

Warehousing, transport and shipping create lots of blue-collar jobs and offer opportunity to some of the region’s poorer communities.

The Alameda Corridor can diversify and flesh out Southern California’s economy in ways that nothing since the shrinkage of aerospace-defense has been able to do.


Lifeline to the Port

The Alameda Corridor’s enlarged rail and truck capacity will allow a doubling of trade and of jobs by 2010 at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.