The road would eliminate truck emissions, and is being tested in a corridor that connects the port to downtown.
By Nate Berg, September 30, 2014
The neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach bring in roughly
40 percent of the goods shipped to the United States. Once there, the
first leg of their journey to warehouses and stores and cities across
the country is a 20-mile stretch of roadway between the ports and
downtown L.A. known as the Alameda Corridor, used almost exclusively by
large trucks hauling goods between the ports and various freight rail
links. The corridor's high concentration of diesel-truck traffic has
created a similarly high concentration of pollution in the surrounding
areas, causing health and air-quality concerns for nearby residents and
the region as a whole.
But a new road design project dubbed the e-highway
is aiming to reduce and maybe even eliminate the pollution problems
caused by all this truck traffic. The experimental system is being built
along a mile of the corridor to test how highly polluting diesel truck
traffic could instead run on emission-free electric power. If
successful, this demonstration could offer a solution to
pollution-related problems along the Alameda Corridor and other
high-traffic roadways all over the world.
The e-highway consists of an overhead catenary system that will run
along the outside lanes of both sides of the road, sort of like the
overhead wires that provide power to electric buses, trolleys, and
trains in cities. Specially outfitted hybrid or all-electric trucks can
attach to the system using automated current-transfer devices called
pantographs. Once connected, the trucks will pull all their power from
the overhead lines, effectively becoming emission-free vehicles.
The $13 million project is a collaboration between the electronics
and engineering company Siemens and the South Coast Air Quality
Management District, the public agency tasked with controlling air
pollution in Orange County and the urban parts of Los Angeles,
Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. Construction is underway, and
officials behind the project expect the two-way, one-mile system to be
operational by July 2015. SCAQMD will then conduct a yearlong test of
the system using up to four different trucks, each with a different
engine type and fuel source. Though four trucks are just a small
fraction of the corridor's traffic on any given day, they could pave the
way for a larger-scale transition of port truck traffic from diesel to
electric—in L.A. and beyond.
"It makes a lot of sense to deploy this system where you need to
bridge a short area, where the distance isn't too long, where you have
heavy traffic from trucks," says Matthias Schlelein, president of
Siemens' mobility and logistics division in the U.S.
Schlelein says the project has three main goals: to reduce carbon
dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, to preserve the flexibility of
trucks in the goods movement chain, and to be operationally
cost-effective. He's confident the system will work, because Siemens has
been testing a prototype of this overhead system at one of its German
facilities. Schlelein says the L.A. ports complex is an ideal place to
use the technology in the real world.
It's also a place in need of new solutions. A 2010 study
from the University of California Transportation Center estimated that
the annual cost of health impacts from exposure to pollutants in the
major freight corridors around the ports—measured by increased incidence
of respiratory illnesses and premature deaths—was roughly $900 million.
And another study
by researchers at the University of Southern California, in 2005, found
striking correlations between childhood asthma and proximity to major
corridors and freeways.
"For our region, on-road, big, heavy-duty trucks contribute the most
NOX emissions, which in turn form smog or ozone," says Matt Miyasoto,
deputy executive officer for science and technology advancement at
SCAQMD. Miyasoto says the worst polluters are heavy-duty diesel
technologies like trucks, bulldozers, graders, marine vessels, and
locomotives. "They're all conventional, big diesel engines," he says,
"and they're all related to the goods movement chain."
The impact of this pollution is being felt on the ground in the
communities surrounding the major corridors leading out of the ports.
"We think there's a disproportional impact on the areas that run along
these major corridors," says Miyasoto. "We do believe it's an
environmental justice issue, and technologies like these which give us
zero emission miles in areas where you need it are necessary to ensure
not only that the economic engine of our region, the ports, can continue
to do business and grow but that the communities aren't adversely
Funding for the project is coming from a variety of organizations,
including the California Energy Commission, the California Environmental
Protection Agency, SCAQMD, the Port of Long Beach, and potentially the
Port of Los Angeles. Some community groups in the areas immediately
adjacent to the ports and the Alameda Corridor have also contributed.
says it's in everyone's best interest to start looking for and
implementing this type of solution to freight emissions. If the EPA
implements stricter standards on the amount of allowable pollutants in
the air, as he expects, more high-traffic areas across the country will
find themselves in non-compliance. The e-highway could be a relatively
quick way to transition from heavily polluting vehicles to those that
are emission-free. "We can look at any long stretch of corridor that is
near populated areas and envision that this could be a solution for that
area," Miyasoto says.
The one-mile test of the e-highway system may just be the start.
Miyasoto says the various funders are hoping to expand the system along
the remaining three miles from the ports to the major railhead, and
there are discussions underway about a 20-mile northwest corridor that
could connect the ports with inland warehouse complexes. If this first
mile test works out, it could help provide a healthier future for
high-traffic corridors around the world.