House panel to tackle freight efficiency across the modes

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 4/18/2013

A new panel formed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will attempt to improve freight movement for trucks, railways, ships and other modes by recommending ways to be more efficient as a whole.

T&I Chairman Bill Shuster, R-PA, and ranking member Nick Rahall, D-WV, announced the formation of the Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation on Tuesday, April 16.

The panel will be chaired by T&I Committee Vice Chairman John J. Duncan Jr., R-TN, with Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York serving as the ranking Democrat.

“In the past, the conversation about freight transportation and goods movement has focused only on one specific mode of transportation or another,” Duncan said in a statement.

“But freight doesn’t move just by ship, or by rail car, or by truck. Chances are the goods you buy at the store got on the shelves thanks to all those methods of transportation,” he said.

Duncan says bottlenecks in any part of the journey can drive up costs.

The panel will make recommendations to the full T&I committee in six months. The first public panel discussion is planned for April 24 on Capitol Hill. Future meetings are to be held in the field, including one at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

During a live webcast Thursday morning by the National Journal, Shuster said the first hearing will feature testimony from large transportation companies, and will likely feature discussions on the Panama Canal expansion project as well as the expansion of domestic ports to accommodate an anticipated growth in trade.

While small-businesses truckers are not at the table for the first panel discussion, the T&I Committee and Chairman Shuster are very aware of trucking in the economy.

“There are a lot of shared goals in improving the freight system in the country,” said Ryan Bowley, director of legislative affairs in OOIDA’s Washington, DC, office. “Small-business truckers are on the front lines of moving freight and moving the economy.”

“The area where the small-business segment of the industry contributes to the discussion will come in talking about the impact that congestion, delays at the loading docks, and some of the regulations have on their bottom lines and their ability to best service their customers,” Bowley said. 

“All of the lawmakers on the committee have small-business truckers in their districts and it is likely that some of the panel hearings will be out in those districts. We need to make sure that the policies and investments about freight movement are done efficiently and in a way that not just maintains but encourages the success of the small-business segment of the trucking industry.”

Members of the freight panel in addition to Duncan and Nadler are Republicans Gary Miller of California, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Richard Hanna of New York, Daniel Webster of Florida and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma along with Democrats Corrine Brown of Florida, Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, Albio Sires of New Jersey and Janice Hahn of California.

“We’re glad that the committee is putting this together,” said Bowley. “So many of the issues dealing with freight transportation cut across modes, and small-business truckers certainly know that. You can’t take a stovepipe approach to freight transportation, and it seems like the committee is focused on a holistic approach to the issue.”

Despite the interconnected nature of goods movement, Bowley says truckers and other highway users should not be burdened with paying for other modes such as railroad or port improvements. 

“The needs of our highway system are well documented and the Trust Fund faces a $100 million shortfall over the next 10 years,” he said. “The freight issue is a great way to highlight that challenge.”

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