L.A. story

How congestion is changing the workday of LTL drivers.

By 5:30 in the morning, the driver area at Jack Jones Trucking is percolating. Trucks stream out the less-than-truckload carrier’s gate headed west from the company’s terminal and warehouse in Ontario, Calif., toward Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara. By 6, most will be fighting traffic, stuck on the freeways of the Los Angeles basin or kneading through clogged secondary streets to make deliveries and pickups.

The activity hasn’t always started so early for these drivers. In the past few years, however, as congestion has increased delivery and pickup time, their average day has gotten longer and longer.

“We have to go to Inglewood,” says David Rivera as I climb into his Sterling daycab. Behind us the sun rises over the emptying terminal lot. Rivera, who has worked for Jack Jones Trucking for two and a half years, isn’t happy about his destination: the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Traffic is a constant wherever he goes, but this trip will mean even more congestion.

As we pull onto I-60 headed west, Rivera says he has a great job – “Well, except for the traffic.” Trucking’s foot soldiers are guys like Rivera, who take the freight from the warehouse to its final destination. Although over-the-road truckers also deal with frustrating traffic, few deal with it every hour of the day. Long-haul truckers occasionally see wide-open stretches of highway, but Rivera and his colleagues see nothing but bumpers and brake lights mile after mile, hour after hour, day after day.

Southern California is the worst. Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and New York deserve credit for their long rush hours and crowded roadways, but Los Angeles is home to three of the nation’s top 10 freight bottlenecks, according to a 2005 study commissioned by the Federal Highway Administration.

At the busiest of southern California’s intersections, I-405 and U.S. 101, also known as the Ventura Highway, drivers spend an average of 27,000 hours stuck in traffic each year, according to a 2002 study. It’s ironic that in the 1972 song by the pop group America, Ventura Highway was where “the free wind is blowin’ through your hair.”

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On I-60, Rivera is well south of that jam. Still, it’s slow going. “Only 45 miles to go