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Biden announces partnership with California on port upgrades

Feds, Golden State to streamline upgrades at two of the nation's busiest ports

To prevent shipping logjams that have recently stymied the country’s supply chain, the Biden administration and California officials said Thursday that billions in infrastructure improvements are being fast-tracked for the state’s largest ports.

The parties announced a new partnership aimed at aiding “multibillion-dollar” renovations to prep the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for the future. The partnership will be tasked with courting financial sponsors and connecting them to federal infrastructure grants to speed up badly needed port and highway upgrades.

“Our supply chains are being put to the test, with unprecedented consumer demand and pandemic-driven disruptions combining with the results of decades-long underinvestment in our infrastructure,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement. “Today’s announcement marks an innovative partnership with California that will help modernize our infrastructure, confront climate change, speed the movement of goods and grow our economy.”  

The ongoing backlogs plaguing the ports in Southern California are not only contributing to shortages of consumer goods across the nation, they're also causing political headaches for the Biden administration and California Governor Gavin Newsom.

With dozens of cargo ships and as many as 1 million containers waiting to be uploaded off the California coast, port bosses have predicted the backlog could extend through next summer.

Biden’s political opponents have capitalized on the situation, warning that Americans won’t be able to find toys and other gifts for the holidays. They’ve ripped the Democratic president for the spike in the cost of consumer goods and have dubbed the coming season “Biden’s Blue Christmas.”

But experts have pinned the blame for the backup largely on the pandemic, noting global business shutdowns caused labor disruptions over the past 18 months. In addition, e-commerce sales have increased dramatically in 2021 as many Americans returned to work.

To relieve pressure at the ports ahead of the traditional holiday shopping season, the White House has held meetings with the nation’s largest logistics companies and retailers. In addition, earlier this month the Biden administration negotiated plans to have the ports of Los Angels and Long Beach to operate 24/7, a tactic employed at Chinese ports. Businesses like Home Depot, Walmart, FedEx, United Parcel Service and local unions have agreed to work overtime.

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The recent actions are aimed at clearing the ports, but Thursday’s joint announcement looks to the future.

The so-called “Emerging Projects Agreement” will focus on building more warehouse storage, port-specific upgrades and projects intended to speed the movement of goods by reducing rail-street interactions near main shipping routes. The partnership also will examine ways to electrify railyards and trucks and cut bureaucratic tape.

“California’s ports and infrastructure system is key to the country’s supply chain,” Newsom said. “Thanks to our collaboration with the Biden-Harris administration, this innovative federal-state partnership will help us fast-track those projects that will make our ports and infrastructure even more efficient.”

September was the busiest month in the Port of LA’s 114-year-history and it has seen a 26% increase in cargo imports compared to 2020. The director of the nation’s busiest port applauded Thursday’s announcement, saying it will help expedite shipments and improve safety for workers and motorists.

“Having our federal and state transportation agencies working in unison to help fund infrastructure is exactly what we need,” said Gene Seroka, port executive director.

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The Port of Los Angeles, one of the United States’ busiest gateways for international trade and commerce.