Hanjin Shipping Leaves Portland and
by Joseph Rose
Question: I've noticed that traffic jams on Interstate 5 in Portland are substantially worse than they were just a few months ago -- and they're not just hitting during the morning and evening commutes. I keep running into bumper-to-bumper congestion in the middle of the day. I've noticed what appear to be far more freight trucks on the highway. In fact, it's not unusual for me to be surrounded by big, slow-moving semis during my commute. How much of that increased traffic can be linked to international shipping companies recently pulling out of the Port of Portland?
Answer: A lot. Probably.
In early March, amid local labor strife at the docks, South Korea-based carrier Hanjin Shipping stopped anchoring its ships in Portland. That eliminated 80 percent of business at Terminal 6, Oregon's only international container port. A month later, German carrier Hapag-Lloyd pulled out.
You can take the Hanjin out of Portland, but you can't take the "port" out of Portland.
Farmers and manufacturers in Oregon and Southwest Washington still need to export their goods. Meanwhile, with consumer spending climbing, regional retailers are relying on timely deliveries of everything from big screen TVs and coffee beans to Taylor Swift CDs and high-waisted mom jean shorts (yep, they're trendy again).
As a result, businesses are relying increasingly on trains and trucks to move goods to and from ships docking at ports in Seattle and Tacoma.
However, thanks to the Northwest economy finding new pluck, rail carriers have very little capacity to handle the containers once loaded onto and unloaded from colossal ocean vessels, said Susie Lahsene, the port's senior manager of planning and policy.
So the vast majority of that cargo is now being moved on the highways.
Of course, at this point, it's still hard to come up with an indisputable, cause-and-effect data showing the port drama is frustrating your daily commute.
In the months before Hanjin and Hapag-Lloyd waved goodbye to Portland, congestion on metro area highways – where freight trucks account for about 8 percent of traffic -- was already worsening.
Now, according to the port's quick math, the metro area probably sees about 2,000 more truck trips a day as a result of the shipping giants pulling out.
"A good portion of (the trucks) are using the Interstate Bridge," Lahsene said.
On average, more than 130,000 vehicles a day cross the Interstate Bridge. So a boost of 2,000 trucks a day may seem like just a little hiccup.
But consider this: Fully loaded 18-wheelers are lane hogs, stretching up to 80 feet -- or the equivalent about six compact SUVs. Also, they usually take longer to get going after stopping in creeping congestion. You can see why, suddenly, it might feel like there are 12,000 more vehicles on I-5.
The port is a little more conservative, using a 3-cars-for-every-freight-truck formula. Either way, "there are absolutely more freight traffic" on the highways, Lahsene said. "I've experienced it myself."
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