Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stockton Port Suspending Marine Highway Ops

By Mark Edward Nero

The Port of Stockton says it’s transitioning its M-580 Marine Highway demonstration project from a weekly offering to an “as-needed” service effective Sept. 1, due to difficulties in making the project work financially.

During the past several months, port officials met with “numerous state and federal agencies” to identify possible financial partners to assist in keeping the current level of service but thus far, no state or federal agency has made a financial commitment toward the weekly operation of the project.

“Challenges remain as the Port of Stockton is the only operating underwriter of this regional project,” Port Director Richard Aschieris said. “During this initial period, we learned that the time it takes to build sustainable volumes was longer than anticipated.”

For the past 14 months, the M-580 has been operating as an alternative to trucking containers to and from the Central Valley and the Bay Area. The M-580 roughly parallels the I-580 corridor between California’s Central Valley and Oakland, one of the most heavily congested highways in the country. It is estimated that about 1,600 containers move per day between the Stockton and Oakland ports along I-580.

When the Marine Highway launched in June 2013, port officials anticipated annual revenues of $15 million, based on handling nearly 900 containers per week, but the financial returns have not lived up to projections.

The project’s total cost was about $30 million, with the majority of funding coming from a federal grant, the port itself spending $8 million, and another $5 million coming from local and regional sources, such as air pollution management agencies.

One of the main priorities of the project was eliminating truck traffic and air pollution, and Aschieris touted the environmental benefits it achieved.

“This project has demonstrated tremendous air quality benefits, reducing air emissions by 80 percent and truck trips by nearly 25,000, making highways safer,” Aschieris said. “The M-580 has significantly reduced associated maintenance costs as well.”

Port Commission Chair Victor Mow also commented on the value of the M-580.

“This project needs to be a part of the goods movement system in California,” Mow said. “With the congestion we experience on I-580, as well as the air quality and safety benefits of the M-580, we look forward to the day we can bring the weekly service back to benefit our communities.”

According to the Port of Stockton, the project has created 45 new jobs in the maritime terminal, and has led to 116 voyages between the ports of Oakland and Stockton so far. A total of 24,629 truck trips have been eliminated and 7,259 containers transported over the past 14 months, for a total emission reduction of 5,977 tons.