USPS says Richmond-area hub in midst of 10-year overhaul, as mail issues continue to mount

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Posted at 6:38 PM, Feb 21, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-21 18:44:02-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- After months of complaints by residents throughout the Richmond region about late or missing mail, Richmond Commonwealth Attorney Collette McEachin and Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan will host a town hall to hear issues and update residents on what they have learned.

Ahead of the town hall, CBS 6 spoke to a local logistic expert about why these issues have been piling up, which he said might take some time to clear up.

The USPS is currently a couple of years into a 10-year strategic plan to optimize and modernize its operations, which they said will require billions of dollars nationwide to implement.

Much of USPS' operating network and systems have not been changed or updated in decades.

After hundreds of complaints and requests for information from Virginia's U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives, the Richmond region director sent a letter last month that mentioned the Richmond Region Processing Center in Sandston is one of the first in the nation to undergo an overhaul based off the strategic plan.

"These new centers will handle all of the originating and destination mail and package processing for a large geographic region and will act as the local transportation node for the larger, national network. What is Sandston facility did experience operational complications during its setup and roll-out, these have been addressed and the facility is now in a position to provide the state-of-the-art mail and package processing for which it was designed. Additionally, the Sandston facility was affected by the anticipated, dissolution of a transportation vendor that complicated the timely transport of mail to, and from the Virginia district, but this issue has also been addressed."

Smith said from the publicly available information and reporting he's reviewed, the "optimized collections" model USPS is rolling out in Richmond essentially cuts out sorting traditionally done at the hundreds of local post offices across the region before the mail heads to mailboxes.

Instead, much of that sorting and delivery work will come directly from regional hubs like Sandston, as long as an address is within a certain mileage range.

"They’re trying to mimic more what mainstream distribution does — UPS or Amazon or something like that — and it’s going to take time," Smith said. "What they’re doing is trying to remove layers to bring efficiencies and sort at a broader scale and distribute from more of a distribution center. So, they’re trying to centralize a lot of their operations and make more of a 'hub and spoke' [model].”

Once fully implemented across the nation, Smith said the plan could make postal deliveries more efficient by cutting out the number of trips it takes to get packages and letters from the processing centers to mailboxes.

The challenge for the now - USPS is trying to plug this modernization into a system that has not changed in decades.

“It’s a modernization of a retrofit, so they’re trying to put it on top of a situation that exists," Smith said. “That last mile delivery — coming to every single house every single day — is the hardest part of distribution. So, you’re de-aggregating when you want to aggregate.”

Technological and information systems advancements, which tend to require a lot of funding on the scale USPS would require, are necessary to make the modernization plan work, Smith said.

USPS officials told congressional representatives fixes were implemented at the Sandston facility to smooth out the issues they experienced late last year into 2024, although CBS 6 continues to receive complaints of delayed or missing mail deliveries.

The postal service continues to move ahead with its strategic plan and already received pushback from lawmakers in other states where the new collection systems went into place, such as Wisconsin.

Smith said if Richmonders can find any small silver lining with the mail issues of the past few months, our regions might experience the growing pains earlier than most.

"If it’s a 10-year plan for the whole system, if we’re at the beginning maybe we’re done in year two, and everyone else deals with it in year five, six, seven," Smith said. "You got to find something in it so why not.”

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email to send a tip.



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