THE House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure announced members of a special panel that will be tasked with examining the current state of the nation's freight transportation and how improving freight transportation can strengthen the U.S. economy.
Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R., Tenn.), vice chairman of the committee, will chair the Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.) will serve as the panel's ranking member. Under the rules of the committee adopted by Congress, the special panel will serve for a period of six months, beginning with its first scheduled hearing on April 24.
"Given that freight transportation cuts across many modes, this panel will play a critical role in providing recommendations on how to improve the efficient movement of goods between highways, ports, inland waterways, railroads, air carriers and pipelines," committee chair Bill Shuster (R., Pa.) said. "I am confident that chairman Duncan and the members of the panel will provide the committee with valuable insights for the improvement of freight transportation and our nation's economy."
"In the past, the conversation about freight transportation and goods movement has focused only on one specific mode of transportation or another, but freight doesn't move just by ship or by railcar or by truck," Duncan said. "Chances are the goods you buy at the store got on the shelves thanks to all those methods of transportation. Bottlenecks during any leg of that journey from the manufacturer to the market drive up costs. That's why improving the flow of freight across all modes of transportation is so critical to a healthy economy."
Nadler added, "How we prioritize, invest and develop freight infrastructure will have considerable bearing on how our economy grows, how we compete on the world stage and how we create a sustainable and environmentally clean future at home."
On April 16, the House transportation and infrastructure subcommittee on water resources and the environment held a hearing on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).
The hearing included a panel of officials from the National Waterways Conference, American Association of Port Authorities, Waterways Council, American Shore & Beach Preservation Assn. and others.
In his opening statement, Shuster expressed the importance of inland waterways to the soybean industry and said industry representatives "explained to me how it costs $85.19 to ship a metric ton of soybeans down the Mississippi (River) from Davenport, Iowa, through Louisiana's ports and on to Shanghai, China. It costs Brazil $141.73 to ship the same amount of soybeans approximately the same distance. However, Brazil is planning to invest $26 billion to modernize its ports and has begun major investments in its waterways so that it can better compete with the United States."
One of the topics discussed during the hearing was the need for Congress to become more active in the process of prioritizing projects and initiatives carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Ever since Congress decided to cease appropriating funds via the earmark process, the Administration has played a larger role in determining which projects to emphasize.
"Congress cannot continue to abdicate its constitutional responsibility in determining what projects should go forward and should reassert itself in the face of an Administration that creates one-size-fits-all policy with little or no transparency," Rep. Bob Gibbs (R., Ohio), chairman of the transportation subcommittee, explained.
WRDA is a collection of public laws Congress enacted to address various aspects of water resources, such as navigation, flood protection, hydrology, environmental issues, etc. Congress has historically completed WRDA every two years. However, it was last passed in 2007.
Despite widespread acknowledgement of the inland waterway system's importance to the viability of the U.S. economy overall, including the agriculture industry, the condition of the nation's lock and dam inventory continues to degrade, the Soybean Transportation Coalition noted.
"Significant time, energy and resources have been devoted by agriculture and other stakeholders to promote increased investment in the system, yet progress remains elusive. A recent study funded by the soybean checkoff suggests that it may be time to re-evaluate how our nation manages and finances our lock and dam inventory," the coalition said in a weekly "Washington Report" newsletter.