Monday, November 5, 2012


 The George Washington Bridge is the primary
artery from I80 in New Jersey into NYC Metro Area
and New England

(Monday November 5, 2012, Cross Bronx Expressway, NYC) Looking to the East and West from the vantage point of the Jerome Avenue Overpass on an average weekday, the six miles of 6 laned pitted, pot-holed Cross Bronx Expressway often resembles a parking lot.  This short stretch of just a half dozen miles of the vast network that traverses America from coast to coast, North to South – The Interstate Highway System -  is the most heavily traveled of any 6 miles in the over 32,000 mile network. 

Just a few blocks from this spot over off Bruckner Boulevard in the South Bronx is Hunts Point Market, the primary distribution center (DC) for edible and perishable goods for New York City.  For all the unique attributes of NYC it has a profound vulnerability that has become painful evident in the wake of the fierce Hurricane Sandy that mercilessly pounded this City and region one week ago week.  Residents of NYC are entirely reliant on the uninterrupted influx of semi-trucks from all over the country delivering the goods needed to sustain us. 

New York City produces little to nothing of what we need to live.  All our food is trucked in from elsewhere as are all our dry goods, household, pharmaceutical, medical, and other vital provisions the availability of which we take for granted when times are “normal”.  NYC Metro area today is about as far from being anywhere near what we know as “normal” as we’ve ever been. 

From previous experiences we all know how a big storm, be it a Nor’easter or blizzard, can bring this mighty City to a halt.  Within hours of a storm hitting there is not a loaf of bread, gallon of milk, jar of baby food, roll of toilet paper, box of Pampers or any of the myriad products that typically fill the shelves of our grocery and drug stores, neighborhood bodegas, shops and diners.  This particular “mega storm” bringing unprecedented devastation, destruction, and chaos across a huge region of the Northeast Corridor poses challenges for those who operate our supply chain, make it work day in and day out.  


To the motorists on the Cross Island Parkway, the Long Island Expressway, the New Jersey Turnpike or any of the major arteries that weave this region together, they are the bane of the roadways – trucks, big trucks, semi-trucks.  They are seen as lumbering, oversized obstructions to pass, get ahead of, cut off and avoid at all costs.  Yet, without them we would have nothing.  Without the constant influx of 18 wheelers to the major distribution centers (DC’s) of the region and onto smaller and smaller trucks making the local deliveries  to the big chain stores and other retailers, we would have virtually empty shelves, produce, meat and frozen food sections in our stores.   This represents perhaps the most prominent Achilles Heel of urban life.  We produce nothing of our own that we need to subsist; we are not self-sustaining and due to the population density and geography of NYC Metro, this vulnerability can cripple us within a matter of a day.

Truckers, a much maligned group of hard working men and women, have two adages they use in defense of their image and industry.  “If you have it, it was trucked” and “America’s needs move by truck”.  Both of these statements are absolutely true.  Over the Road (OTR) truckers represent the largest and most susceptible to circumstance and conditions link in the supply chain. 


Logistics, unlike politics, is anything but local.  Today it is truly a global network of enormous complexity given how goods make it from point A to point B and ultimately down the line to our local shops, bakeries, restaurants, diners, grocers, and merchants of every type and variety.  In normal times few of us are likely to give the supply chain much, if any thought.  And that is how it should be.  When the links in the chain are all cleanly aligned, when the chain has no kinks and is pulled taut across the seas, rails and roads, it is an amazing feat of manufacturing, processing, production, planning, coordination, inventory management,  and distribution.

To better understand the particulars of this global logistical apparatus, we recent spoke with a man who plays a role in it.  He was able to provide a depth of insight that clearly illustrates why the NYC Metro Area is still plagued by shortages of goods of all types from gasoline to garbanzo beans.

KLLM Transportation is one of the 5 largest carriers of refrigerated and dry goods in America.  Their fleet of thousands of tractors and trailers travel all 48 of the contiguous United States, Canada, and a segment of Northern Mexico.  One of KLLM’s largest customers is Chiquita Banana.  From the Port of Gulfport Mississippi, ships from South and Central America make their way laden with containers of bananas destined for distribution to points throughout the southeast and as far north as Chicago in the Midwest.  Gulfport is one of the most active ports in the country for receiving edibles from all around the world. 

Mark Whetstine has an often daunting task.  As a vital member of the Port Operations Team for KLLM, he directs all  trucks coming empty into the Port to be loaded and sent on their appointed destination, Whestine choreographs an often clumsy dance considering the size of all the moving parts.  “As soon as a freighter is docked the big gantry cranes begin lifting the containers off.  Then, the bananas must be unloaded and loaded onto refrigerated trailers that will go out and supply the network”, Whetstine explained.  He continued, “We receive the bananas in a “hard” state and they are “gassed” here which starts the clock as far as perishability is concerned. This is automatically “time sensitive” freight and with all the big grocers and DC’s using the “just in time” practice of inventory management and delivery, there is little margin for error or delay”. 

Whetstine knows all too well the pressures and time constraints of the “just in time” process having been a long haul Over the Road Owner Operator for 16 years prior to taking his current position with KLLM.  “Once that driver is under a load, he has a very narrow window for delivery.  Weather, in some parts of the country can really put the driver under a great deal of pressure.  First, if his wheels aren’t turning he is not making any money; drivers are paid by the mile.  So, If a snow storm up in Illinois has him sitting in a truck stop for a few days not only is he not earning, he has a load of perishables that even though they are on a temperature controlled trailer have a limited shelf life.”

Whetstine noted that at the initial indications that Hurricane Sandy would morph into a monstrous Nor’easter, contingency plans were being activated throughout the supply chain of which he serves as a vital link.  “We knew the Port of Wilmington (Delaware) and obviously Ports Elizabeth and Newark in Jersey would not be available to incoming freighters.  Although this may not have a direct, immediate impact on the freight I handle, the ripple effect would surely be felt here in South Mississippi.”  He was forced to divert trucks in route to the NYC Metro Area to other locations in Indiana and Ohio.  “We also truck for “Fresh Express” being the primary carrier of their products for the grocery chain Kroger’s.  So, all my counterparts had similar challenges to contend with.”


Saucier Mississippi is approximately 15 miles due north of Gulfport and where Mr. Whetstine resides.  As a resident of the Gulf Coast, he is intimately familiar with tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes.  He and his family have lived through some of the most lethal storms in recent memory including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that decimated New Orleans and much of the adjacent region.  “As bad a Katrina was, most Port operations resumed after about 5 days.  Hell, I didn’t even get electricity back for 4 days and I’m up here inland.  Hurricanes Ike and Isaac were not as bad as Katrina but still caused some major disruptions in the supply chain.  Some products spoiled as they sat on trucks that could not get out of Southern Mississippi before the storms hit.  Loads of spinach spoiled and some were linked to an outbreak of E. Coli.  So, the pressure is always on.”

Whetstine did have a few comments directly for the residents of the battered New Jersey Coast, New York City neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens and Staten Island.  “All I can tell ‘em is, to not hold their breath or think that FEMA’s gonna come in writin’ checks.    And if you’ve got homeowners’ insurance, FEMA is gonna kick you back to your insurer.  I just hope they all get about what they got to do. I'd advise them to not be like the people of New Orleans waiting for FEMA and the Feds to help them out.  Be more like the people here in Mississippi and help each other out.”


Almost an entire week has transpired since Sandy made landfall and delivered a scale and scope of destruction and devastation of Biblical proportions.  Even this far removed many hundreds of thousands of people from Staten Island to Hoboken, from Far Rockaway to Atlantic City, from Brooklyn to Westchester, Orange and Rockland Counties and many points in between remain without power or access to the essentials such as clean potable water, food, shelter, and hope.  This is a time for patience although it is far easier to say than do. 

Some of the area’s DC’s are beginning to restock and come back to life while others, in cities like Edison, New Jersey, home to the main DC for the Shop-Rite food chain and in Industrial Parks housing warehouse complexes in central New Jersey, many remain essentially  severely weakened if not broken links in the supply chain. 

Antonio D’Attlio, of the Port Authority is the Operations Director for the George Washington Bridge.  From his command center located on the New Jersey side of the mighty span things “seem to be getting better.  The truck traffic is picking up by the hour so at least we know goods are getting in to the Metro Area and Hunts Point.  But, I couldn’t comment beyond that.  I hear varying reports from other Port Authority facilities.”


In 1860 Michael Moran started Moran Towing which is today still one of the largest providers of tug boat service for the hundreds of ships and barges that travel the waterways from New York Harbor and the East and Hudson Rivers.  From gigantic ocean liners to the huge oilers that off load on Staten Island, Moran tug boats maneuver these ocean going ships into and out of ports, docks and terminals.  Known for their red boats with the big white “M” painted on the smokestacks, Moran tugs play anther vital role in the supply chain.  “I know there have been tankers full of crude and fuel anchored south of the Island (Staten) and as far as 20 miles off the coast of New Jersey for over a week.  Slowly but surely we’re getting them where they need to be”, commented Patrick O’Dwyer a Moran harbor Master.  Port Elizabeth and Port Newark are among the busiest commercial freight ports in the country receiving goods such as automobiles from the Far east, to bulk and finished materials of every kind.  "Once we get the go ahead from the Port Authority to begin docking operations, we'll be hard at it especially with another bad storm literally on the horizon", noted O'Dwyer.


As for the truckers, while most typically loathe the idea of having to take a load into the NYC Metro Area, they seem to be pleased just to be rolling and in their own anonymous way helping the region and residents recover.  Many of the main surface arteries are still suffering from some degree of occlusion, despite the many obstacles, closed and washed out roads the truckers are getting in.  Just as a human heart will infarct when the coronary arteries that supply that vital muscle with its internal blood supply become blocked by plague, so too the heart that beats silently nourishing our insatiable need for goods of all kinds,  is beginning to resume its normal rhythm and beat.  The clogs are beginning to clear and the lifeblood – the trucks that nourish and supply our City - trucks are once again coursing through our region.

Whatever far away day it is that we once again are able to conduct “normal” lives, if you find yourself out on U.S. Hwy 1&9, or I-95, I-80, The Throgs Neck Bridge or any other roadway and you find yourself cursing the lumbering semi alongside of you, stop and think for a minute that without them, we’d be without.



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