The Impact of the Economic Recession on Truck Traffic in Los Angeles

Traffic congestion and its implications are a major concern for modern metropolitan areas. Los Angeles has been consistently ranked the most congested metropolitan area in the country since the early 1980s. Researchers have well documented the many negative effects of traffic congestion, such as lost productivity from work due to more time spent driving, and increased fuel costs and emissions from idling. One of the factors contributing to traffic congestion in the Los Angeles area is the high truck traffic generated from freight movement; Los Angeles is tied with Chicago for the greatest volume of intercity truck freight in the country. Trucks that burn diesel are also a major source of air pollution, which may have negative health risks to local residents. As such, this project will address an important research question, what factors affect truck traffic in Southern California? The high volume of truck traffic in this area is partly a result of goods movement from the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, which, combined, is the fifth largest port in the world. When the economy slid into recession in late 2007, it had a deep impact on both ports. Around the same time, fuel prices climbed to an all-time high, increasing the costs of truck transportation. Therefore, it is hypothesized that truck traffic declined significantly during this period. If fewer trucks are on the road, we should also observe less traffic congestion and possibly improved air quality as a result. An empirical model will be used in this research project to show whether fluctuations in the economy and the price of diesel have an impact on truck flow and the ratio of truck traffic. Traffic data will be collected from the Caltrans Performance Measurement System (PeMS), which provides a rich data set on traffic patterns for California's major freeways. This project will focus on truck traffic patterns near the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach (especially on the Long Beach Freeway, I-710), since decreased demand for goods during the economic recession should dramatically decrease the movement of cargo from this area. It is hypothesized that truck flows are negatively impacted by declines in local economic indicators and by diesel prices.