Editorial: The Los Angeles region just got stiffed on federal funding for freight projects

A Union Pacific freight train derailment near Union Station in the early hours of morning on November 9, 2009 in Los Angeles.
(Los Angeles Times)

Last December, when Congress finally approved a long-term transportation funding bill after a decade of temporary measures, Southern California transportation officials hailed the passage for two reasons. First, the bill ensured they would have a reliable stream of money for much-needed highway and transit construction. Secondly, the federal government created an entirely new pool of money specifically for truck, train, plane and ship-related projects that could move freight in a faster, safer and more environmentally friendly fashion — something local leaders had long lobbied for.

Surely, the metropolitan Los Angeles region, which has the nation’s largest port complex, second busiest airport, worst traffic and smoggiest air, would be at the front of the line for funding, officials reasoned. But apparently not. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced the first round of grants -- $759 million awarded to 18 projects – with nothing for the region. Zero. Zilch. Projects to add zero-emission cranes at the Port of Los Angeles, build rail directly to the docks to reduce truck trips and add truck lanes to local freeways were among those rejected for funding, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported.

In fact, just one project was funded in California. The DOT gave $50 million to San Diego County for a highway project on the U.S.-Mexico border to allow faster border crossings by commercial trucks. It’s a worthy project, but couldn’t the federal government cough up some more money for infrastructure in a state that is a linchpin of trade and has the sixth-largest economy in the world?

Transportation planners in the Los Angeles region were shocked and disappointed to be left out of the first round of funding. The six-county area that stretches from Ventura to Imperial counties (and does not include San Diego County) received nothing although it is larger than the state of Tennessee and handles almost half of the nation’s shipping containers. Trade is an economic engine not only for the Southern California area but for the entire country. The value of the goods moving through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is nearly $400 billion, and the volume of goods is expected to more than double over the next 30 years.


Yet the conditions on the ground can’t support that growth. The roads are often clogged with traffic. The rail lines are some of the busiest in the nation. And the pollution from dirty diesel- and fossil-fuel-powered equipment means Southern Californians continue to breathe unhealthy air that cannot meet federal Clean Air Act standards. The region needs significant investment in new transportation infrastructure and cleaner technology and it’s not just an L.A. problem. It’s a national imperative, as well as a reminder that there is a tremendous demand for transportation infrastructure funding nationwide. Congress’ allocation will meet just a fraction of the need.

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