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A ship anchors off the Port of Long Beach, waiting to drop off goods. Congestion at the twin ports of LA and Long Beach is delaying some shipments up to two weeks. - 

There’s a traffic jam in Los Angeles, but this one’s not on the freeways. The port complex  of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s busiest, is so backed up right now that some importers are avoiding the port altogether. Problems there are delaying some shipments for two weeks or more. The bottleneck is giving southern California’s ports “a black eye,” says Jock O’Connell, international trade adviser at Beacon Economics.

There’s congestion at many ports right now, but the Los Angeles-Long Beach complex handles 40 percent of U.S. imports, so the ripple effects are long and wide.  If retailers are "planning on having it stocked for the Christmas holiday, it needs to be in the port now, it needs to be moving through,” says Frank Layo, a partner with Kurt Salmon Associates. “So any delays now are kind of critical. We’re running out of runway.”

Port officials say the delays at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports are rooted in a shortage of trailer chassis, to load the containers onto. But that problem has been exacerbated by an unexpected surge in imports this year, along with the sudden rise of “mega-ships.” They can carry three times as many containers as older ships and they’re straining port capacity. Others say unresolved labor negotiations at the port are crimping efforts to ease the port’s traffic jam as well.

Some retailers are diverting shipments to other ports and a few are even flying merchandise into the U.S.  But Noel Hacegaba, chief commercial officer at the Port of Long Beach, says they’re working hard to ease congestion. “At the end of the day our reputation is at stake,” says Hacegaba. “Beneficial cargo owners have choices. And we are doing everything that we can to make sure that we continue to be the gateway of choice.”

Follow Sarah Gardner at @RadioGardner