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July 10, 2007 > Traffic talk - Port of Oakland

Traffic talk - Port of Oakland

Traffic builds every morning along the I-880 corridor stretching through our area and often cited as one of the most congested highways of the Bay Area. Along with thousands of commuters and trucks serving local businesses, a major segment of truck traffic originates from the Port of Oakland, the third largest entry point for cargo ocean vessels in California. Traffic of another sort impacts the local landscape as well; containers and other cargo loaded on railcars, pulled by locomotives. Both forms of transportation have a significant impact on our home, the southeastern part of the Bay Area, yet many of us are unaware of the strategic position we occupy, cursing the inconvenience of delays at railroad crossings and the overcrowding of our roads with little understanding of what can be done about these problems.

Before interstate highways and trucks became a major part of the national transportation system, railroads were one of the few methods to efficiently transport merchandise throughout the country. Without major river connections to many locations, an overland river of steel train tracks carried the load. The greater Tri-City area is steeped in railroad history, without which, much of its economic life would have atrophied, limited to local commerce and consumption.

Many agencies are planning for future growth of road and rail. Recently the Fremont City Council listened to a presentation by regional transportation consultant Tom Matoff of LTK Engineering Services who outlined the status of Regional and High Speed Rail Plans and how they would affect the area. This will be explored in future articles. Projects such as the planned Dumbarton Rail commuter train, Union City's Intermodal Station, Hayward's Route 238 corridor, Fremont's Mission/I-880 intersection and grade separations and the Milpitas light rail connection with San Jose and its Calaveras Blvd. connection between I-880 and I-680 are examples of transportation issues of current interest.

The impact of the Port of Oakland on our area should not be underestimated; this series begins with basic information about this important connection between the United States and its Pacific trading partners. TCV asked Libby Schaaf, Director of Public Affairs a few questions about the Port of Oakland. In the next installment, rail transportation from the Port of Oakland will be considered in depth.

TCV: Is the Port of Oakland owned by the City of Oakland?

Schaaf: We are an independent department of the City of Oakland. Our commissioners are nominated by the mayor, and confirmed by the city council. They serve four years in staggered terms. However, the land we operate on is state title in trust land and so the state has a lot of regulatory power over us and much of what we can do is governed by title in trust law as much, if not more than, our city's charter. We have many layers of regulation over us, but we are an independent department of the City of Oakland.

TCV: Where does Oakland stand in relationship to other ports on the West Coast?

Schaaf: We're similar in size to Tacoma and Seattle. We're the fourth busiest port in the country for container shipping. Los Angeles and Long Beach are number one and two in the state of California. To give you an idea of how much bigger they are, combined they do 89% of container traffic in California. We do 8%. The third largest port in the country is the New York/ New Jersey. Container shipping has become prevalent and lends itself to increased security as well.

TCV: How does cargo leave the port?

Schaaf: The majority is put on trucks but we have a number of opportunities to expand rail traffic. A little less than a year ago, the former Oakland Army Base land transferred to us. We have the opportunity to develop that land and our primary focus is to build an expanded intermodal rail yard giving us more capacity to transport by rail. There is quite a bit of information that suggests that trade with Asia will triple by the year 2020. Oakland is looking at how much of that increasing cargo we want to capture.

TCV: With the price of fuel, will short haul rail become more inviting?

Schaaf: It makes economic sense to put things on a train when traveling certain minimum distances. We are also looking carefully at increasing short haul rail since it is less polluting and causes less congestion on the freeways. One other thing we are considering for the future is the use of barges - using the delta to get to the Sacramento area.

TCV: If people want to see the port, are there tours?

Schaff: Yes, during the summer we have free harbor tours and they often are booked to capacity. We're adding an extra one this year. Last year, over 5,000 people took the harbor tour. We also have a free speaker bureau for groups.

TCV: What other impact does the Port of Oakland have on our area?

Schaff: Although many people do not work directly for the Port of Oakland, we have studied the economic impact of our facility. The Port of Oakland is responsible for about 55,000 jobs in the region. A tremendous number of business partners are involved in transferring cargo from here to its final destination. We only touch it for one hot second in its travels.

More information is available at
Harbor Tour Hotline: (510) 627-1188.

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