The Los Angeles metropolitan area consists of Los Angeles and Orange Counties in California. The area spans over 4,850 square miles (12,562 square kilometers). Based on the 2010 Census, it is the second-largest metropolitan area in the country, with a population estimated at 15.4 million. In addition, more than 2.3 million people live within its metropolitan commuter shed, which is considered as the Census Combined Statistical Area (CSA).
The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) serves as the MPO for the Greater Los Angeles area. It serves the region north and east of San Diego, including the six counties of Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura, an area that also encompasses 191 separate cities. More than 18 million people live within the SCAG region, making it the largest MPO in the nation. The MPO region is illustrated in Figure 16.
The role of SCAG is critical, integrating transportation planning activities across one of the most institutionally complex settings of any region in the United States. The six SCAG–region county transportation commissions (CTCs) and authorities have responsibility for programming and funding transportation projects in their respective counties. The SCAG region also has 14 sub-regions, each represented by a council of governments or sub-regional planning agency that works with SCAG and the CTCs to provide the transportation planning for the region. There are also joint power authorities with control over such freight facilities as the Alameda Corridor. Other public agencies with a role in the region’s freight transportation system include the seaport and airport operators, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and the regional air quality management and water quality agencies. In addition, four different district offices of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) have responsibility for the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of the region’s state highways.
As the regional MPO, SCAG leads the coordination across all of these agencies in providing the ongoing goods movement, or freight planning, element of the comprehensive Regional Transportation Plan and Regional Transportation Improvement Program. The goods movement element is included among other plans that attempt to balance the many demands and priorities of individual agencies as they consider improvements to the regional transportation system for households and businesses. This function is one of several that SCAG performs. SCAG is mandated by federal and state law to research and draw up plans for transportation, growth management, hazardous waste management, and air quality. Additional mandates exist at the state level, meaning that freight is only one of several priorities for SCAG and the board that oversees it.
The SCAG Regional Council has an active Goods Movement Subcommittee. The subcommittee seeks to integrate freight issues and concerns within the overall metropolitan planning process. There is also a Goods Movement Task Force that works to provide policy guidance in developing a more efficient goods movement system across the region. SCAG works with many other public-sector and private-sector stakeholder groups on goods movement.
The Greater Los Angeles area is among the largest distribution center hubs, international maritime and air cargo gateways, and intermodal cargo hubs in the nation. With a very large and dispersed population, the numerous urban areas within the region suffer from congestion. The area is served by inadequate and aging infrastructure, and it is physically limited by the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the San Gabriel Mountains to the east. The region’s population density has increased as it has grown, adding pressure on transportation capacity for both passenger and goods movement. Transportation challenges identified in regional transportation planning activities extend beyond capacity and infrastructure conditions to complicated issues such as air quality, transportation safety and security, environmental justice, and economic redevelopment needs throughout the region.
Freight users have access to all modes of transportation. The area is served by the two Class I railroads (Figure 17); 10 Interstate highways; ports in the city of Los Angeles, the city of Long Beach, Oxnard (Hueneme), and El Segundo (for oil tankers); and five airports providing air cargo services (Figure 18).
Combined, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California (Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach) make up the largest container port gateway in the western hemisphere. The Los Angeles International Airport is the fifth largest in scheduled air freight tons in the country. This great connectivity and location provide Greater Los Angeles with logistical advantages as a freight transportation hub, which have been strengthened in the last few decades by its role as the primary national gateway for rapidly growing Asian commerce. Despite a significant percentage of freight ultimately passing though the region, the economic benefits associated with value-added services in the logistics and distribution sector compel regional leaders to focus on goods movement performance.
Although trade activities may be the most visible freight generator, the manufacturing sector is critical to the economy of the Greater Los Angeles area. The once-strong aerospace manufacturing sector has experienced weakness over the past two decades and with the recent recession, but the Greater Los Angeles area is still number one among U.S. metropolitan areas in manufacturing output.
For 30 years, planning studies across the region have addressed various aspects of freight growth on transportation system demand and performance. Substantial investment has been made to expand the freight network in the region, but SCAG estimates that over $58 billion of improvements will be needed by 2035. Among the projects identified are expanded seaports, air cargo facilities, freight corridors, and new rail intermodal yards.
Geography poses a particular challenge to the region’s freight transportation network. The largest international gateways, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, are located on the western edge of the region. The region’s primary rail and highway routes follow the network geography established in the middle of the nineteenth century. Consequently, freight destined for eastbound locations travel through the heaviest congested portions of the region, including downtown Los Angeles.