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Officials See Progress In Port Of LA Backlog And Delays Imposing Fees

An aerial view of the Port of Los Angeles. Shipping containers can be seen stacked on ships and in a holding area waiting for trucks to take them away.
Cargo containers sit stacked on ships at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro.
(Mario Tama
Getty Images North America)
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Progress has been made in reducing the glut of shipping containers sitting at The Port of Los Angeles, so officials are holding off on charging dwell fees on important containers that are parked too long.

In late October, there were 95,000 import containers on the docks in San Pedro.

“After three weeks while working a record number of ships by our great ILWU men and women, we've reduced that 29% on the aging cargo side, and all imports are down about 25%,” said Port of L.A. Executive Director Gene Seroka.

But that's just the loaded containers. There are currently 65,000 empties to get rid of in the Port of L.A., though Seroka says sweeper ships have been coming through and more are on the way.

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President Biden declared last month that L.A. County's ports would operate 24/7, but that hasn't happened yet. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg met with Seroka to discuss the backlog, saying the change isn't like "flipping a switch." He said the administration will announce a $230 million investment in U.S. ports through the Port Infrastructure Development Grant Program.

“As so many of us know, decades of under-investment in our supply chain infrastructure, combined with unprecedented consumer demand ... and of course, a global pandemic, [are] all combining to put our supply chains to the test,” Buttigieg said.

Seroka says the ports have been open 19 hours a day, offering flex hours for others in the supply chain to link up. That also has yet to happen.

“The warehousing complex traditionally work during the day and they found it difficult to bring in workers during this time,” he said. “On the trucking side, as we've explained before, drivers have a limit, federally-mandated, of 11 hours behind the wheel every day, and if they work consecutively, they must take a rest. We need to add more drivers.”

President Biden signed a massive trillion-dollar infrastructure spending bill into law Monday, and California is set to receive more than $45 billion (assuming the state can solve a labor dispute). White House officials say the bill will help get more truck drivers into the field, with an apprenticeship program to encourage more 18-to-21-year-olds to sign on.

The bill also contains $17 billion for America's ports, including the ports of L.A. and Long Beach. California Senator Alex Padilla says the package will help alleviate the cargo backlog.

“Whether it's something as simple as more land for storage of containers is part of it, but modernization of the ports, to make it more efficient,” he said. “Whether it's electrification of the ports, to bringing rail more directly into the ports to get cargo in and out that much more quickly.”

About 40% of all imported goods that enter the United States must first go through the twin ports of L.A. and Long Beach, which has seen heavy congestion this year due to supply chain issues triggered by COVID-19.

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