By  on May 16, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO — For the second consecutive summer, the port of Los Angeles-Long Beach, the busiest in the U.S. and a key gateway for apparel and textile imports, is likely to avoid cargo backups during the annual peak delivery season.

"There is no congestion, and it's looking positive," said Jack Keyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., adding that cargo traffic at the port is forecast to grow 10.2 percent in 2006 compared with the 8.3 percent growth last year.

But challenges for the port in the competitive cargo arena aren't over.

Los Angeles-Long Beach's spot as the top mover of cargo containers in the country eroded last year. Its market share slipped to 55.7 percent from 56.5 percent in 2004, and 57.9 percent in 2003. An LAEDC report said port "congestion concerns and traffic diversions" of cargo to other West Coast ports by cargo shippers such as retailers was a cause. Ports with the largest gains in container processing were Seattle, up 8.8 percent last year and 7.6 percent in 2004, and Tacoma, 10.2 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively.

The LAEDC said the loss of market share was symptomatic of larger issues facing U.S. ports that need to expand roads and railroads leading to their facilities.

"People who tout diversion of traffic from Los Angeles-Long Beach have to recognize that all U.S. ports are struggling with capacity issues," the LAEDC study concluded.

A task force established by Gov. Arnold Schwarz­enegger is studying how to do a better job of moving imports into the state through its major ports in Los Angeles-Long Beach, San Diego and Oakland. The panel, which is also examining the export side of the trade equation, is to meet Wednesday in Sacramento to hear comments on a draft report issued in March.

The task force's work recently got a financial boost after an agreement was reached between state lawmakers and the governor to place a $37.3 billion public works bond issue before voters in November. About $20 billion would be earmarked for transportation projects, and priorities for this money are to be outlined by the panel.

The issue of expanding international trade in California is fraught with political wrangling that goes beyond how cash-strapped state and municipal governments can pay for road improvements, said Robin Lanier, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Waterfront Coalition, whose retail members include Target, J.C. Penney and The Limited.

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