New Vision for Freight in Los Angeles: Zero Emissions Technologies From the Ports to the Railyards
Posted March 22, 2012
I just had the chance this morning to look at the proposed final regional transportation plan for the Los Angeles region that was released yesterday. The plan still needs to be approved by the Southern California Association of Governments (“SCAG”), which is the major transportation planning body for the Los Angeles metropolitan region. It will go before the SCAG Regional Council for approval on April 4, 2012.
Home to approximately 18 million people or 5.8 percent of the United States population, the Los Angeles region spans approximately 38,000 square miles. Beyond the immense passenger transportation issues facing its clogged highways, the region also hosts an immense network of ports, freight highways, railyards and distribution centers that currently accommodate more than 40% of the containerized cargo imported through the nation. While these freight facilities provide immense economic activity in the region, the system also imposes significant health threats through high levels of air pollution that is a major culprit in the regions inability to meet federal and state clean air standards. Also the freight system has created toxic hotspots that are concentrated heavily in low income communities of color throughout the region. You can read previous posts about those most impacted here.
As I wrote in my prior post, the key is actual movement to electric or other technologies to prevent trucks from spewing their noxious emissions in communities that are most impacted by freight movement. During the commenting period on the draft transportation plan, several environmental organizations and the South Coast Air Quality Management District advocated that despite the inclusion of discussions about long-term efforts to create a zero or near-zero emissions corridors in the Los Angeles region, the plan failed to include short-term steps to actually achieve this vision. The SCAG staff heard this critique and provided an appropriate way to address this concern.
In the revised plan, there is a short-term project that will provide a great jumping off board to spurring these cleaner technologies. This project entails near-term demonstration and, if successful, initial operational deployment of zero-emission trucks receiving wayside power along the Terminal Island Freeway or another local route connecting the ports to freight facilities.
The staff report explains that it chose a wayside power structure for the following reason:
Wayside technology has been used for many decades to power electric buses, mining trucks, and rail systems. It is thus a particularly proven and promising technological approach to achieving zero-emission transport…Hybrid  trucks could produce zero-emissions along key high-volume corridors (e.g. Terminal Island Freeway, I-710, east-west freight corridor), but could operate off the electrified corridor powered by conventional natural gas or diesel fuels, by fuel cells, or—within certain range—by batteries. Such vehicles thus could provide zero emissions where most needed, and would have range to travel long distances in other modes.
Using this proven technology initially is a smart step because it provides flexibility. It is good to finally see some strong commitments with a deadline for moving towards a zero-emission freight movement system.
This project is significant for many reasons. First, it provides the first step in a technology boom that is necessary to clean up the freight industry in the Los Angeles region. Second, this project has huge national implications because it is the first freight project of its nature that seeks to protect port-adjacent communities from noxious conglomerations of diesel-spewing trucks.
Now, I don’t want to give any false notions that the work is done. Of course, we need our regional planning agency, SCAG, to approve this project on April 4th. Even if approved, community and environmental advocates will need to vigilantly monitor this project to make sure our agencies build it. But, overall, port advocates in the Los Angeles region can feel a great sense of accomplishment that their vision of a cleaner system that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach promised us back in 2006 when they adopted their Clean Air Action Plan is actually coming together. Let’s hope this project spurs on a tidal wave of investment in cleaner technologies, which will improve the health conditions for all those who breathe the polluted air stemming from the freight system in the Los Angeles region.