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Port of Los Angeles approves nearly $1B budget

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The leaders of the nation's busiest seaport approved a nearly $1 billion budget Thursday that focuses on fending off competitors by expanding and modernizing the sprawling trade complex.

The Port of Los Angeles will spend almost a third of its $939 million budget next year on upgrades to shipping terminals and transportation infrastructure. Those improvements include $107 million for road and railway upgrades to improve traffic and cargo flow, and an additional $136 million for renovations to several of the port's 23 terminals.

The capital spending is key as the port, a major economic engine in Southern California, faces competition from near and far.

The neighboring Port of Long Beach is in the middle of completing about $4.5 billion in structural upgrades. In addition, the expansion of the Panama Canal _ slated to be completed in 2016 _ will allow larger ships to reach East Coast ports and bypass Southern California altogether. Last year the port finished deepening its main channel to 53 feet, a $370 million upgrade that allows ever-larger vessels to reach the docks.

Last year, about $285 billion worth of cargo _ ranging from furniture to scrap metal _ passed across its docks, mainly in trade with Asia.

“In the face of fierce and increasing competition from around the world, we must do whatever we can to maintain our position as the nation's premier trade gateway,” said Ambassador Vilma Martinez, the president of Los Angeles Harbor Commission.

To partially pay for this year's budget, the port expects to take out $200 million in bonds.

Along with the budget, the port's commissioners also approved the appointment of former shipping executive Gene Seroka as the new director. Seroka's appointment, announced last month by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, must be confirmed by the City Council.

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