Road conflicts grow between trucks and autos
- Published Sunday, March 2, 2003, in the Fresno Bee
Big-rig road conflicts grow
Contention with other traffic is weighed against the need to ship
By Donald E. Coleman
The Fresno Bee
Conflicts between heavy trucks and other traffic in the Valley are on
the rise, fueled by a population boom, the rush to get goods from
farm to market, and heavy demands of a consumer society, according to
a new report.
The report to the Council of Fresno County Governments is a precursor
to a summit on the issue planned for Long Beach in April.
"Efficient goods movement is critical to the long-term economic
health of Fresno County and the San Joaquin Valley in general," says
Tony Boren, a council of governments planner. "The growth in
population and freight transportation demand will create issues that
need to be addressed in the transportation planning process."
Boren says the Valley's population is increasing at 1.9% per year,
compared to a 1.75% clip for the state. He says 250,000 jobs and
200,000 housing units a year need to be created statewide to keep
pace with population growth which is adding to congestion by placing
600 new motor vehicles a day on roads in the state.
Boren says while the conflicts grow between heavy trucks and other
traffic, the movement of goods to and from the Valley is crucial to
the nation's economy.
Those trucks moving north and south from the central San Joaquin
Valley's main arteries are carrying almonds, olives and grapes. They
cross paths with other big rigs bringing in televisions, DVD players
and even more new cars. The growth of big-box superstores and online
shopping exacerbates the congestion.
Boren says that as cities grow, distribution centers occur on the
fringes, causing more traffic.
"All new urban development stocks goods that get there by truck,"
Boren says. "Once you get to Turlock, from there on up sprawl is out
of control. In Fresno, there has been nothing close to balanced
growth. Most of it has gone north."
While regular vehicle traffic has increased, so has truck delivery
traffic, Boren says.
"It's great for the customer, but it doesn't help congestion," Boren
Agriculture is the primary economic engine of the Valley, with $10
billion generated in revenue annually.
"People expect groceries to be in their refrigerators, but they don't
want trucks around," says Sohinder Athwal, owner of Market Express of
Fresno, which delivers mostly vegetables and produce around the state.
Findings in a study by Oakland-based Cambridge Systematics say 73
million tons of commodities are shipped annually from the San Joaquin
Valley and 77 million tons shipped in. Farm products, nonmetallic
minerals, food and mixed shipments account for 75% of outgoing
shipments and 58% of incoming.
Trucking is the dominant mode for goods movement in the Valley,
accounting for 87% of outbound tonnage and 81% of inbound tonnage.
The most frequently used and most congested routes are Interstate 5
and Highway 99.
For instance, truck traffic constitutes 30% or more of the total at
several spots along I-5, including junctions at Highway 41 in Kings
County, Highway 198 in Fresno County, Routes 33 and 145 in Fresno
County and Highway 152 in Merced County, according to the state
Department of Transportation.
The same applies to the larger customers.
The business trend to have just enough goods on hand puts more trucks
on the road, too.
"Nobody wants inventory," Athwal says. "Vons in L.A. might buy 50
boxes of turnips on Monday, 50 on Tuesday and 50 on Wednesday. They
have a big enough cold storage but they won't buy 250 boxes at once
because the 50 at a time is all they want."
Some suggestions offered by the council of governments for trucks
coexisting with other traffic include only allowing trucks in key
corridors, truck bypass lanes in urban corridors, upgrading arterial
roads to freeway standards in some corridors, developing short-haul
intermodal (train-truck) service and examining alternative land-use
Alan McCuen, Caltrans deputy district director for planning, says one
strategy in the Bay Area and Southern California that has not been
contemplated in the Valley is limiting some deliveries to off-peak
Also expected to play a key role is the state's Traffic Congestion
Relief Program. However, the fate of several projects hinges on the
More than $97 million has been earmarked for projects in Fresno
County, including the extension of Highway 180 east to Temperance
Avenue and an environmental study on the same route from Mendota to I-
Also included is the widening to four lanes of Highway 43 from the
Kings County line to Highway 99 in Selma.
"It's too early to tell," says Caltrans spokesman Jose Camarena about
the future of the projects. "It's going to be up to the regional
transportation boards to find alternative funds or to study each
project and reprioritize funding. It's all going to be decided up in
Sacramento by the Assembly, so it's let's wait and see."
The reporter can be reached at dcoleman@... or 559-441-6360