Southern California was shut out of freight, road grants and local members of Congress are furious
Local lawmakers on Friday demanded to know why Southern California was shut out of the inaugural round of federal transportation grants aimed at improving freight movement to and from ports, highways and rail.
A letter sent Friday to Anthony Foxx, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, led by Rep. Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, and signed by 15 other local Democrats, contends the snub by the Obama appointee hurts both the California and national economies.
“Los Angeles is home to the busiest port complex in our nation and the region is responsible for moving 40 percent of the nation’s cargo trade,” wrote Hahn. “It is where the freight network begins and ends and should have been an obvious choice for a grant.”
An estimated $396 billion in national cargo travels through Southern California ports, freeway and roads. Congestion remains a perennial problem. Residents spend 81 hours on average stuck in traffic next to freeways clogged by trucks. Since most of the trucks run on diesel fuel, truck emissions lead to air pollution that can harm residents’ health, according to the California Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
The Democratic congressional members want theDOT to explain why it skipped over 16 projects from the six-county region(that doesn’t include San Diego), including two that would have expanded on-dock trains at the Port of Long Beach and paid for zero-emission cranes at the Port of Los Angeles to expand capacity.
Both projects would help lower emissions at the ports by increasing rail capacity, said Lee Peterson, spokesman for the Port of Long Beach. Instead of relying on diesel trucks that take cargo in and out of the port to rail yards miles away, shippers would be able to use locomotives.
Port of Los Angeles officials said this week they are reassessing how to move forward.
The Long Beach project projects that lost out on funding won’t be stalled. But John Slangerup, chief executive of the Port of Long Beach, said the snub hurt.
“It’s embarrassing for the state,” Slangerup said.
Also, two major railroad underpasses for Pico Rivera and Montebello were denied funding, as were freeway improvements in Los Angeles County on the 57/60 freeways, 71 Freeway and 110/405 freeways; in Orange County on the 405 Freeway and in San Bernardino County in Rialto on the 10 Freeway.
Instead, the DOT awarded $759 million in grants to projects from Seattle to Louisiana. Only one project was funded in California, $50 million for extending a freeway in San Diego County to the Mexican border crossing at Otay Mesa for enhanced truck movement.
Both Napolitano and Hahn are members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which is reviewing the DOT awards. They are asking for a meeting with Secretary Foxx, Napolitano said.
However, Napolitano said she didn’t believe the members could change the DOT allocations for 2016. “The decisions have been made,” she said. “We need to make sure whoever is making those decisions understands we are not happy about it.”
The unhappy delegation is contesting $90 million going to revamp the Arlington Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River that connects cars and pedestrians from Washington D.C. to Virginia. Sources close to the committee said the project does not carry trucks or freight and therefore does not meet the criteria of the grant program.
The letter also was signed by Democratic representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard of Los Angeles, Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks, Zoe Lofrgen of San Jose, Linda Sanchez of Norwalk, Ted Lieu of Manhattan Beach, Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, Tony Cardenas of Van Nuys, Karen Bass of Los Angeles, Julia Brownley of Thousand Oaks, Judy Chu of Pasadena, Adam Schiff of Burbank, Steve Knight of Santa Clarita and Maxine Waters of Los Angeles.
Napolitano said she will make sure the next four rounds of the $5 billion freight-related grant program include Southern California projects. Also, a $6.3 billion pot of freight money from the overall, $305 billion Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, called the National Highway Freight Program, will be allocated every year for the next five years directly to the states.
She’s supporting Assembly Bill 2170 by Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, that calls for the California Transportation Commission to receive and distribute the revenue. Each transit agency would then submit project requests.
She said Southern California will be in a better position in the future to receive grants for improving freight corridors through such subsequent federal grants.
“Leaving L.A. out was a huge oversight and as this grant program moves forward, this cannot happen again,” Hahn said in an emailed response.