Friday, July 3, 2009

Growth and Regional Intermodal Transportation

As I pointed out in a previous post, there is tremendous pressure from LA/San Pedro, Sacramento and economic policy folk in Washington to keep the growth model moving ahead full steam in California. The trouble is, this growth model is unsustainable, which is why the residents of the state are resisting the growth pressures that have degraded the quality of life in what was formerly bucolic Southern California.

It's reflected in water shortages, power outages, rapidly increasing utility bills, gasoline price increases and clogged freeways. The resources have been maxed out for over a decade, as the USC study "Sprawl Hits the Wall" has documented in intensive data analysis, and we are currently in an unsustainable situation with more growth being mandated by SCAG, the coalition devoted to more development at all costs. They have pushed bills through the legislature that require more development (RHNA allocations and SB 375 that force communities accept more people and traffic), and have circumvented legislation requiring that adequate supplies of water be available for this development.

While the shift in human habitation in California from sprawl to a coherent urban form is welcome, the infrastructure is not available to support it. It helps to look at population areas, road transit infrastructure and what's called "inter modal transportation", which is what the shipping network from the port is all about. We have a conflict between residential needs, the regional resources and the increasing use of the highways for shipping purposes. To put it in perspective, I've shown a snapshot (click to enlarge) based upon an entire interactive map at wikimapia which displays the whole system of rail and highway infrastructure in California. My snapshot shows the 710 "gap" which has long been shut down by South Pasadena using CEQA in defense of its existence. The pressure for this connector comes from the shipping industry, which has outgrown the rail infrastructure during the mergers and acquisitions of the old rail lines. In this snapshot, the grey rail lines for the Alemeda Corridor for shipping from San Pedro appears at the bottom where it bends east in the appropriately-named City of Commerce, heading out to the main rail shipping lines across the country.

To quote from a comment on Kunstler's site: "US railroading is accomplished on two tiers: Trunkline Mains, result of mergers over the last fifty years; and the 100's of viable feeder lines salvaged or spun-off from the merged mega railways. Kunstler's book, "The Long Emergency" helps frame the picture that fosters attention to deliberate rehab of branchline rail connection to many places now truck-dependent. Places near dormant rr corridor not of interest to operating shortline operators will need to approach operators, and form local consortiums or partnerships to reconnect."

This is a call to rebuild shipping rail rather than increasing truck traffic on the overused highways. Rail is a far more efficient transport from a sustainability point of view, since it uses rails set in gravel instead of immense concrete structures, and can be grade-separated or put underground without huge emissions due to the improved electric engines in use these days. It's time to do the smart thing by using rail as the main shipping backbone instead of using the 210 freeway to Sylmar and Burbank airport as truck shipping overflow, for example, which would free up the freeway for residential transit and avoid the costs of ever-widening freeways and increasing auto exhaust. In that case, the "710 connector" is not necessary to provide the regional shipping channel. As you can see from this Transportaton Services site, rail shipping is part of a huge industry that connects all the ports on the west coast with shipping lines across the country, with interconnections to air cargo, freeway truck transit, and ocean cargo shipping. Other mind-numbing statistics are here.

With the revitalization of the appropriate infrastructure, as well as regenerative efforts in the local communities that balance the "black hole" of construction with natural habitat restoration, there is hope that there is a sustainable future for our grandkids.