Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Did your holiday gifts make it on time? Our Freight System Plan looks at what’s happening to the supply chain

By Janet Matkin

Did your new gaming console fail to arrive in time for the holidays? Are you surprised that grocery store shelves are empty of your favorite foods? You're not alone. The pandemic has forced us all to think about how products make it from manufacturers to our homes.

In the past, the global supply chain has been largely invisible to the average consumer, functioning quietly in the background with no real need to understand the complex network of ships, planes, trucks, trains, and technology. We clicked a button and our packages showed up in a few days. We visited the mall and stores were filled with a vast selection of clothes, electronics, and toys.

But now things are very different. Shelves aren't as full, prices are higher, and some items can't be found at any price. Products manufactured overseas have always been in high demand and during the early months of the pandemic production of such merchandise lagged and shipments were reduced because of COVID restrictions.

Updating our Freight System Plan will look into how supply chain challenges
 – including at the Port of Seattle – affects the public.

When products (especially from Asia) were finally available, the pent-up demand led to a surge of cargo ships trying to deliver products to U.S. ports. Some ships chose to return to Asia empty, rather than wait for American export products to be loaded and slow their travel times back to Asia for new loads. This led to American products – including Washington-grown grains and fruit – being left behind.

Prices to ship products increased substantially. Cargo ships had to drop anchor and wait for several days before they could pull into ports. Warehouses started overflowing with no room to unload incoming goods. Shipping containers filled with merchandise began piling up at ports. Trucks, trains, and airplanes had difficulty meeting demand to move products inland. More online shopping pushed delivery companies beyond their capacity. Manufacturers couldn't get parts to build their products and assembly lines slowed or stopped. Workers retiring and other employment shifts led to a shortage of truck drivers, traincrews, and port workers. These factors continued to strain the entire supply chain.

Delays on getting goods and products delivered across the country – and the issues leading to those delays – have had significant effects on everyone.

Suddenly many of us have an interest in understanding how freight moves throughout the world and what that means in our daily lives. The interconnected system of ports, airports, highways, railways, and waterways that make up the freight network is important to all of us.

At WSDOT we're taking a close look at all these issues as we update our statewide Freight System Plan. We want to know how issues with the freight network are affecting you. Let us know in the comment section below what you are thinking. Please subscribe to our email distribution list if you'd like to receive email updates and be more involved as we move forward with developing the Freight System Plan over the next year.

1 comment:

Nordin said...

There has been a remarkable increase in container delays at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma. Some containers are sitting at the port for over 60 days AFTER being unloaded. Getting ships offloaded and getting the containers on the move needs to be at the forefront of capital investment by the WSDOT.

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