Photo: DOT/@SecretaryPete via Twitter

DOT Secretary Buttigieg Touts Infrastructure Funding During Southern California Port Visit

Mike Schuler
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January 12, 2022

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday made his first visit to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to tour the nation’s largest port complex, which combined are responsible for about 40% of the country’s imported goods.

Tuesday’s visit included a boat tour followed by a press conference at the Port of Long Beach’s Joint Command and Control Center overlooking the new Long Beach International Gateway Bridge, as well as Long Beach Container Terminal.  

The tour comes as U.S. seaports are set to receive funding for critical infrastructure in the form of $17 billion that has been allocated for ports and waterways in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The visit also comes on the heels of the Maritime Administration’s awarding of a $52 million grant to the Port of Long Beach to boost on-dock rail capacity at shipping terminals, as well as Monday’s announcement that California’s proposed state budget which includes $2.3 billion for ports.

During his press conference, Secretary Buttigieg thanked port officials, labor leaders and longshore workers for their efforts to keep cargo moving throughout the peak holiday shipping season.

“One of the reasons why Christmas was not, in fact, canceled, is that ports like L.A. and Long Beach moved record levels of goods, allowing an all-time record high in terms of retail sales this holiday season,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “Considering the pressures that this country and this community, these communities, have been under, that is an extraordinary achievement.”

But along with successes, Secretary Buttigieg also recognized challenges ahead.

“But the other side of the coin is that as long as the pandemic persists, as long as we are making up for decades of past disinvestment, we are going to see impacts on shipping times and shipping costs. But that’s exactly why we’re here – not waiting one minute to address supply chain disruptions,” said Buttigieg.

His speech touched on the partnership between the DOT and State of California, announced in the Fall, that will “fast track” financing over $5 billion for infrastructure projects “that bear on our supply chains.” 24/7 operations, fees for dwelling containers, and even the new queuing process were also mentioned.

“We’ve partnered with the Department of Transportation, with Port Envoy John Porcari, and with the ports leading the way on 24/7 operations, on fees that help to motivate shippers to move their products more quickly, on ways to prioritize medical supplies – cutting sometimes by weeks the amount of time that life-saving supplies got to where they were needed.

“And the results include an almost 50 percent reduction in long-dwelling containers on the docks going into the holidays, record levels of goods on shelves, cargo leaving the ports and getting to people significantly faster.

“We’re also very supportive of the new system that keeps the ships further at sea in order to reduce the impact on air quality. Although I want to note this does not, does not, mean that the issue has been solved. It’s not just how many ships can you see, it’s how many ships are on their way. And that’s what we’re trying to make sure we clear the way for going forward,” said Buttigieg.

Secretary Buttigieg ended his speech by mentioning funding commitments that will “deliver a better future for all of us.”

“And we’re going to be there to help. We just recently were able to announce that $52 million commitment to help with on-dock rail for the Port of Long Beach.  

“And that was with the funds that we had last year.?I cannot wait to put to work the funds from that $17 billion being committed to ports thanks to that Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  

“So nothing about this will be easy, but everything about this can make us proud, because of the partnership, because of the teamwork, because of the commitment, and because of the will to make the investments that America has needed for a very long time. And there’s no better way, no better place, to showcase that than right here at LA and Long Beach.”

Unfortunately for the Biden Administration, any benefits from these infrastructure investments may not be realized for years to come. Out of all that funding, only the $52 million for the Long Beach rail project is attached to an actual project and the first tracks won’t be completed until 2025. Long-term improvement projects are great and needed, but considering port congestion is lingering when it should be ebbing, pretty soon we’re going to be talking about what’s in store Christmas 2022.

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