California tight? No way - they've got oodles of state-$s for a free bridge for port trucks (ARGUMENTATIVE)
You heard that the state of California has budgetary problems? Furgeddit. They've got oodles of millions of taxpayer money to splurge, and no need for any assured revenue stream for maintenance and operations.
Bridges and tunnels in most of the country are toll financed. A bridge owner, public or private, raises capital in the capital markets based on the prospective revenue stream from users paying tolls - over the life of the asset. Those who benefit by the bridge pay for it. It leaves taxpayers off the hook, and politicians out of the loop - limiting favor trading, and allowing scope for the market to give the green light to the high value projects.
Even in the Bay Area up north of LA they toll-finance big bridges.
Not in Tinseltown however.
A new $950m Gerald Desmond Bridge over the back shipping channel of the Port of Long Beach is being built without any toll. They just announced they've lined up the financing and are going for a design-build contractor for a free bridge.
The state of California is providing $500m of grant money, the Feds are putting up $300m, and the Port $114.
Even the LA Metro transit system apparently doesn't have anything better to spend money on.
The transit guys are throwing $28m in the begging bowl for the new port bridge. Usually it's the other way around - the transit guys come begging to the bridge and tunnel operators. But this is LA where they have a lot of things backwards.
A new bridge is needed, the Port says, because the big-rigs taking freight from the port have pounded the present 42-year old structure into such a state of decrepitude it is rated only 43 in structural sufficiency on a 0 to 100 scale. Plus, it only provides 156ft, 47.5m shipping clearance and the latest generation of container ships require around 200ft, 61m. And it isn't up to modern seismic standards. Fair enough.
Projected traffic growth they say - based on free trips - will require three travel lanes each direction compared to the two on the existing bridge.
BACKGROUND: This is the busiest of three bridges to Terminal Island. Terminal Island has about 40% of the wharfage of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach - twin ports in San Pedro Bay. It is about 20 miles, 32km due south of downtown LA. The major route to the twin ports is I-710, the Long Beach Freeway.
The three Terminal Island bridges:
- the Gerald Desmond Bridge coming westward off I-710, opened 1968, through-arch truss bridge with a 410ft, 120m main span, 156ft, 47m vertical shipping clearance, 55k ADT (average daily traffic)
- the Vincent Thomas Bridge coming eastward off the end of I-110, the Harbor freeway, as CA47 it is a 4-lane 1,500ft, 460m main suspension span, opened in 1963 providing 185ft, 56m clearance for ships, 32k ADT
- the Commodore Schuyler F Helms Bridge, a 4-lane low level draw bridge built 1946 coming south off the Terminal Island Freeway CA103 that serves local traffic to the north of the ports and connects to I-710 just a few miles away, 23k ADT
The Desmond and the Thomas bridges as well as providing access to Terminal Island are used by some motorists as a through route between the San Pedro area in the west to I-710.
Toll financing cursorily dismissed
Planning for the replacement of the Vincent Thomas goes back to 2003-2005. The planning documents show toll financing was rejected in casual fashion on the grounds it would divert through traffic to land routes to the north of the port area. No estimate was made of the diversion.
It was simply asserted that tolling of the bridges would "would result in substantial unavoidable adverse impacts to the environment".
p1-29: "The diversion resulting from tolling all three bridges would principally affect regional traffic – traffic with neither an origin nor a destination on Terminal Island, but simply passing through the island. Some regional traffic passing through Terminal Island with free bridges would be induced to avoid Terminal Island when tolls are imposed on the bridges. Little diversion of traffic with one trip end on Terminal Island would result from tolling all three bridges because this traffic must cross one of the three bridges."
ANALYSIS: Left unaddressed is the question of why two very expensive bridges in the port area should be catering to regional through traffic in the first place.
Skirting to the north of the ports on an all-land route - Pacific Coast Highway or Anaheim St - is hardly any longer. A proper environmental impact study would have looked at the land route as an alternative, rather than dismissing it in a paragraph.
The three Terminal Island bridges cater to around 110k vehicles a day, about a quarter of them trucks. If tolls diverted half the through traffic - about a third - then there would be over 90k ADT - 32.8m/yr on the bridges with tolls.
Consider the revenue being foregone as compared to comparable value bridges New York-New Jersey (PANYNJ) and the Bay Area (BATA) if the car/truck split in toll traffic were 75%/25% - 24.6m cars, 8.2m trucks.
Both-way tolls on the NY-NJ bridges are $4 in peak hours, $3 off-peak for cars and $20, $17.50 for tractor-trailers.
On the Bay area bridges they are $3 peak hours and $2 off-peak for cars and a standard $5.62 for trucks. (Both in fact toll double these amounts but one-way so we halved their actual tolls to get both ways tolls.)
Assuming two thirds of the traffic pays the peak hour rates, the average car toll NY-NJ is $3.65 both ways, the truck toll $19.40 both ways.
The average Bay Area toll for cars both ways is $2.65 and the tractor trailers pay $5.62.
The Los Angeles/Long Beach toll bridges therefore would earn $89.8m from cars and $159m from trucks or a total of $249m/yr at NY-NJ toll rates.
At Bay Area toll rates they LA ports bridges would bring in $65m from cars and $46m from trucks for a total of $111m a year.
These revenue numbers are just current traffic. They leave aside likely growth. Even if you don't believe the doubling of traffic projected for 2030 (table nearby) by the planners of the free Gerald Desmond bridge, it does seem likely trade will grow. And it's very likely the LA ports will retain their dominance as the Asian freight gateway to the US.
COMMENT: Unfortunately a revenue source well-rooted in port economics is being foregone in politicians' indulgence of special interests. This is an example of the behavior that has mired California so deep in public debt.