By Brenda Flanagan
“It’s trucks all over. Big, big, big traffic,” said driver Diego Ramos.
Even for exasperated haulers accustomed to crawling in line — waiting for hours to pick up cargo at New Jersey ports — last Thursday/Friday’s marathon at Global Marine Terminal in Bayonne approached apocalyptic proportions. Trucks clogged highways, traffic backed up onto the Turnpike.
When asked how many miles traffic was backed up, Seaport driver Wayne Allen said, “Oh I’d say maybe four or five.”
“It was like a never-ending story,” said All City driver Sergio Ulacia.
The Port Authority pointed to a couple of culprits, saying overall cargo imports in Jersey ports spiked 15 percent over the past couple months, because a labor dispute on the West Coast caused ships there to be rerouted here.
And some of those ships include real leviathans — carrying 10,000 containers each — to both Port Newark and Global Marine, now called GCT Bayonne. Drivers say, the sudden crush of cargo containers creates epic traffic jams as trucks clog access points.
“That’s what really happens when the ship comes in. Then the backups start to get really big,” Allen said.
“It seems to be a problem that’s rolling throughout the port from terminal to terminal, wherever the vessels bunch up. Bigger ships are coming in and they discharge more containers at one time. But we still have the same amount of time in which to pick them all up,” said Tom Heimgartner.
Heimgartner runs Best Transportation. He says hauling companies don’t want to pay terminal storage and late fees — called demurrage. When backlogged containers awaiting pick up pile up, they’ll send trucks to sit in line rather than pay those fees. But erratic schedules make it difficult to predict when ports will get slammed.
“It varies wildly. On a good day, we can get a guy in and out of a terminal in an hour. On a bad day, he can be there six, eight, 10 hours. We had a driver at one terminal for 12 hours last week [at Global],” said Heimgartner. “Twelve hours picking up one container. We have drivers come in and say, ‘If you send me back to that place, I’m gonna quit.'”
Global Marine says it “…is aware that the traffic buildup prior to the port opening last week impacted the local community” but blamed trucking companies for lining up hours in advance and creating their own traffic nightmares, adding, “Port Authority has advised it will not allow trucks to queue before 5:30 a.m. and will be actively policing this.”
Many drivers don’t expect improvements.
“I hope the company gives me a pick up in another port. It would be better,” Ramos said.
Annoying, time consuming, costly. If the backups at Global Marine and other terminals in New Jersey send truckers to other cities, it could really hurt the attempt to get the economy moving again.