June 30, 1996 - From the June, 1996 issue

Status Update On Alameda Corridor: Shifting to Second Gear

The Alameda Corridor is a $1.8 billion, national priority infrastructure project that will redefine rail access between downtown Los Angeles and the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The need for such a project is best understood by noting that the two Ports combined handled cargo last year valued at more than $140 billion. The Corridor represents one of the most significant regional efforts in transportation and infrastructure planning in Los Angeles’ history, and yet it has received relatively little media attention. 

As the project shifts into a higher gear, TPR is pleased to present excerpts of a civic leadership briefing on the Project’s status sponsored by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, and featuring: Gill Hicks, Gen. Manager of the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority; Yvonne Avila, Dir. Of Public Affairs for the Port of Long Beach; Vern Hall, Dir. Of Development for the Port of Los Angeles; Martha Escutia, CA State Assemblywoman; and Jonathan Thomas, Saybrook Capital partner, investment banker and L.A. Harbor Commissioner. 


Martha Escutia: “This project represents jobs for many parts of the City that are economically depressed. As a legislator, I have a responsibility to recognize and pursue economic development opportunities when they arise.”

Gill Hicks, Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority

It is my opinion that without strong coalitions, nothing happens. We are very grateful for the Economic Development Corporation’s support in creating local coalitions…

There are currently four major rail lines serving the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach—the Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and two Southern Pacific lines. The Alameda Corridor project will consolidate rail movement onto the Southern Pacific San Pedro branch, which parallels Alameda Street from downtown Los Angeles to the Harbor. The project will eliminate vehicle/rail conflicts at 200 grade crossings between downtown and the harbor.

We are double-tracking the rail line along the corridor, installing centralized traffic controls, and consolidating all harbor-related railed traffic onto the corridor. The northern 10 miles of the corridor will be lowered through the use of trench 30 feet deep and 50 feet wide.

There will be a third track, built at-grade, to serve the local industries along Alameda Street which still use rail transport. The highway component is more modest than the railway work. Alameda Street will be widened from four to six lanes south of SR 91, the street will be improved with new pavements and signals, but there will not be a major truck expressway, as was originally envisioned.

WE are going to be advertising for our first construction project any day; we are waiting only for confirmation from Caltrans. The first construction project will be the L.A. River railroad bridge near Washington Blvd., and we hope to have a groundbreaking by July.

The cost of the project is $1.8 billion. The sources of funds are as follows:

  • $80 million from the state
  • $45 million from the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA)
  • $2 million from the Economic Development Administration
  • $400 million from the ports, primarily for the purchase of railroad rights-of-way
  • $8 million from LACMTA
  • $600 million in revenue bonds will be sold beginning next year
  • $350 million (approximately) from the MTA over a 10-year period
  • $400 million from a federal loan, which will require a $59 million appropriation from Congress this year.

In our fundraising efforts we have tried to street that this is a project of national priority; it is not just a local project. 

Yvonne Avila, Port of Long Beach

Before we talk about the Alameda Corridor, it is important to put the Corridor in perspective, as to why it is needed, how it is going to be used. In order to do that, we need to understand what the ports are doing.

Today, the Port of Long Beach consists of about 2,600 acres. The Port of Los Angeles has 3,100 acres. And the only thing separating the two Ports at the moment is the Naval Property on Terminal Island.

Last year, more than 5,000 ships called in Long Beach, and nearly 3,000 ships called in Los Angeles. Combined, the two ports handled cargo valued at more than $140 billion. Today, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are the top two container ports in the United States.

Independently, they rank seventh and ninth in the world, and when combined, the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles rank third in the world behind only the Ports of Hong Kong and Singapore, which serve as hubs for all of Asia.

Since 1994, the Port has committed more than 1.3 billion dollars to capital projects designed to accommodate our tremendous growth. We’ve purchased 725 acres of land in the north harbor area for development as container terminals.

This land, formerly used for oil production, is being cleaned up and reused. It will be turned into a 170-acre container terminal for Hanjin shipping company of South Korea by mid-1997. We’re also working with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Maritime administration to acquire 130 acres of land on Terminal Island which was formerly used for the Long Beach Naval Station, and the 120-acre breakwater known as the Navy Mole. Initially, a 130 acre container terminal will be built on the Terminal Island land formerly used for the station.

But the ultimate infrastructure project remains the Alameda Corridor. This 20-mile truck and train thoroughfare will carry cargo between the docks of both Long Beach and Los Angeles and the rail yards located just outside of downtown Los Angeles. Trains will be rerouted from the existing Union Pacific and Santa Fe routes which run through residential areas in Long Beach and Los Angeles. Instead, the trains will run along a double-tracked route along Alameda street, which is bordered primarily by commercial and industrial development.

When completed, nearly 100 trains per day will travel along this double track route, at speeds up to forty miles an hour—twice as fast as trains currently move along conventional tracks in Southern California.

All three railroads serving the Port have agreed to use the Corridor and pay fees needed to retire some $600 million in revenue bonds to pay for the project. The two Ports have committed $400 million to the project through the purchase of rights-of-way from the railroads, and to finance the preliminary design.

Many of you may know that the Congress has designated the Corridor as a project of national significance. The Corridor will link U.S. manufacturers, farmers and retailers to markets throughout the world; the Corridor is the final link in our intermodal network and is essential to the continued flow of commerce across our nation.

During the next fifteen years, trade through the ports of Long Beach and L.A. is expected to double, and that trade will support jobs in Southern California and across the nation… The Alameda Corridor will keep trade flowing through our Ports and maintain the economic vitality of Southern California.

Vern Hall Port of Los Angeles

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We are now developing two areas of the Port of Los Angeles. Pier 300 is land created in the early 1980’s. Pier 400 is new land that is currently being created.

This is an historic peak of activity for us. We have about $650 million of work under contract… Unlike the Port of Long Beach, we do not have the virtue of political boundaries that allow us to purchase land from Union Pacific or transfers from the U.S. Government. We are out there creating 265 acres of new land, which we call Pier 400.

It is the largest capital dredging project ever undertaken in the United States. In order to remediate the environmental effects of this dredging project, we are restoring, in the City of Carlsbad, a 680-acre deteriorating lagoon of tidal wetlands. The birds are back, and there is an active fish hatchery.

Almost $170 million of our $650 million investment is for the dredging and land creation, which emphasizes the importance and advantage of natural ports. Much of both of the Ports of L.A. and Long Beach is manmade. We place rock, primarily from Catalina island, in configurations that contain dredged material on the bottom. Both ports are very fortunate that the old L.A. River deposited good sand at the port, and sand is an outstanding building material. A lot of the land mass of the 3,500 acres of the Port of Los Angeles, and 2,100 acres of the Port of Long Beach is manmade material.

… We couldn’t wait for the lengthy process of Congressional approval. We took the initiative to begin to build our improvements to meet the needs of modern shipping, our customers, and Southern California. We have over $100 million literally in the ground today. And we expect completion in 1997.

I have personally been working on seeing this project permitted, mitigated and constructed for longer than I care to discuss. We have been working intensely for eight years, which is not that long by federal standards. By way of comparison, the Port of Oakland is now dredging channels to 42 feet, which they now know are inadequate for modern shipping. It took 22 years to get the Oakland process underway, and by the time they began, their planned depths were outdated. 

Our On-dock Rail Interchange Station (ORIS) for APL will be larger than the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF), which the ports jointly developed, and pushed the two ports firmly into the intermodal era. The ICTF allows us to take advantage of the transcontinental rails that come in to Los Angeles. 

The Alameda Corridor is no longer a theoretical exercise. Today, both ports are building the south end of the corridor with investments in grade separation and double-line main rail. For $160 million, we are building five grade separations and interchanges… The Alameda Corridor is not just a rail and highway project. It is a key link—one of truly national and international significance—to achieve our promise of a world-class port here in Southern California. 

I was speaking recently to the port Director in Singapore. He told me that by the end of the century there will be three major ports in the world that dominate world trade: Singapore; Rotterdam, the center of trade for much of Europe; and San Pedro Bay—the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The Alameda Corridor Project will ensure that we are indeed one of those three major ports. 

Martha Escutia, California State Assembly 

You might wonder why a state Assemblywoman is interested in this project. First of all, I live in the area. I know what it means to have a railroad in my back yard. I know what it means to sit in your car, waiting for the train to pass. I know what it means to breathe the railroad emissions. I know what is means to deal with noise pollution. 

I also know what it means to need a job. This project represents jobs for many parts of the City that are economically depressed. As a legislator, I have a responsibility to recognize and pursue economic development opportunities when they arise... 

Alameda Corridor has not been an easy project. What we see today has been the product of many, many years of work. I have only been at it for four years. I knew that something was very wrong when I entered the State Legislature in 1992 and realized that none of the County's representatives were even remotely interested in this project. A naive Martha Escutia goes to then-Speaker Willie Brown and requests to form a committee on the Alameda Corridor. He thought it was in Alameda County, and flags went up thinking I was a freshman Southern Californian imposing in Northern California affairs. Once the project was clarified, and I promised him that it was a win-win project that would provide him plenty of credit in Southern California, the committee was approved with no effort. 

We established a committee, on which I was chair for the last four years. Now that a new speaker is in power, that committee has disappeared. What has not disappeared, however, is the bipartisan support for the Alameda Corridor. There is commitment to make sure these ports are able to compete in the international market. 

Jon Thomas, Commissioner, Port of Los Angeles

These are challenging times. I want to mention a recent development that emphasizes the importance of strong infrastructure planning. Despite what you have heard about the funding we have lined up, we continue to fight for the project. 

Although we have developed a financing strategy, financing is constantly in peril. A prominent member of Congress, the head of the subcommittee that will allocate the key $59 million that is the linchpin of the $400 million federal loan, has decided to declare war on Los Angeles. That Congressman has done so using the issue of the diversion of revenues from LAX to the City's general fund. 

In a letter Senator Wolf said that if Mayor Riordan does not back down from a diversion of fonds, the senator will not look favorably upon other transportation projects currently under review. The named projects include funding for the MTA, $59 million for the Alameda Corridor, and a variety of other projects.

Make no mistake about it; this is a major problem. The Mayor firmly believes that having revenues go from LAX to the City's general fund is a viable transfer of funding. The airport is one issue; the Corridor is another issue entirely. Linking the two projects in this way, Senator Wolf is biting off his local nose to spite his national face.

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