A Port of Oakland infrastructure project could boost economic output by $1 billion while improving agricultural export flow. That’s the conclusion of Washington State University economists studying a proposed $515 million fix for a major Port gateway.
Researchers from WSU’s Freight Policy Transportation Institute said this month that upgrading the Port’s Seventh Street entrance would provide myriad benefits. Among them:
WSU Associate Prof. Eric Jessup presented his findings last week to tree nut exporters at a U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored symposium. The university and USDA are hosting four workshops around the country to advance the process of prioritizing infrastructure projects. The focus is on projects that improve agricultural export supply chains.
- A $1.1 billion boost in economic output for Oakland and surrounding counties;
- 375 new jobs; and
- An improved supply chain for U.S. exporters, especially those shipping farm goods overseas.
The Port is working with Alameda County’s Transportation Commission to eliminate cargo-hauling bottlenecks at Seventh Street. The thoroughfare is a major gateway on the Port’s westside.
Seventh Street fixes would include separating freight rails from the street, heightening and widening underpass clearance and introducing technology to ease traffic congestion. Design work is underway on the project. The Port and county are seeking federal grants to finance the work that could go on until 2023.
Prof. Jessup said improving Seventh Street would help tree nut producers - and other exporters - move shipments more efficiently to overseas markets. “In the past five years, the Port of Oakland is the No. 1 U.S. port for containerized edible nut exports,” he said. “But landside access inefficiencies constrain growth.”
Oakland handles 59 percent of all U.S. edible nut exports, Prof. Jessup said. The Port is adjacent to the Central and San Joaquin valleys where most of the nation’s $7.6 billion worth of nut exports are produced. The crop includes almonds, walnuts and pistachios.
Nuts are the third-largest U.S. agricultural export. Nuts and dried fruits are the Port of Oakland’s second-largest export category.
“These are high-value exports produced almost in our back yard,” said Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll. “It’s important that we do a good job with the shipments because the industry depends on us to access foreign markets.”
Oakland is considered a leading agricultural export gateway because of its proximity to California’s fertile growing regions. According to the Port, growers also choose Oakland because of its position on the Pacific Rim. Oakland is the last U.S. stop for many container ships before they return to Asian markets. That means exports loaded in Oakland spend less time on the ocean, thereby extending shelf life.
Prof. Jessup said construction spending would provide the biggest economic benefit from fixing Seventh Street at the Port. Job gains would be felt primarily in the construction and services sectors, he said.