Program to Lend Billions to Aid California’s Supply-Chain Infrastructure

WASHINGTON — The Transportation Department will team up with California to provide billions in loans to strengthen the state’s overwhelmed ports and supply-chain infrastructure, in an effort to prevent a repeat of the bottlenecks that have crippled the flow of goods into and out of the United States, officials announced on Thursday.

Most of the projects will probably take years to fund and complete, a department spokesman said, so the initiative will offer little relief for the supply-chain crisis now gripping the globe. But with potentially more than $5 billion in loan money on offer, officials say the investment is a necessary step to bolster the state’s aging infrastructure.

The loans could be used to upgrade ports, expand capacity for freight rail, increase warehouse storage and improve highways to reduce truck travel times. The Transportation Department will provide some of the loan money through its own programs, while also working with the California State Transportation Agency to identify other financing opportunities.

Backlogs of ships at ports and shortages of shipping containers, truck drivers and warehouse workers have aggravated the delivery delays and rising prices that began when coronavirus outbreaks shut down factories around the world even as demand for goods spiked. The Biden administration moved this month to nearly double the hours that the Port of Los Angeles is open, shifting to a 24/7 operation.

“Our supply chains are being put to the test, with unprecedented consumer demand and pandemic-driven disruptions combining with the results of decades-long underinvestment in our infrastructure,” Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, said in a statement. “Today’s announcement marks an innovative partnership with California that will help modernize our infrastructure, confront climate change, speed the movement of goods and grow our economy.”

The announcement comes as President Biden and lawmakers try to push through Congress their own major infrastructure plan, which includes money for ports and other transportation initiatives. Progressive lawmakers in the House have resisted throwing their support behind the bipartisan infrastructure bill as leverage while negotiations continue over a separate $1.85 trillion economic and environmental bill.

David S. Kim, the secretary of the California State Transportation Agency, said it was the first time California had worked with the federal government to issue loans for infrastructure projects on such a broad scale.

“Our supply-chain infrastructure is outdated,” Mr. Kim said. “Now’s the time to modernize it and prepare our system for what will be huge growth and huge demand for years to come.”

The partnership comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom of California signed an executive order last week directing state agencies to identify longer-term solutions to alleviate congestion at California ports, which he said were “key” to the country’s supply chain. Mr. Newsom said the new agreement would help accelerate upgrades to the state’s infrastructure system.

“This innovative federal-state partnership will help us fast-track those projects that will make our ports and infrastructure even more efficient,” Mr. Newsom said in a statement.

California’s budget this year includes $250 million for ports, $280 million for infrastructure projects at and around the Port of Oakland, and $1.3 billion over three years for zero-emission trucks, transit buses and school buses, including the deployment of more than 1,000 zero-emission port drayage trucks.

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