Trucking issues rank high on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee agenda for the coming year.
The committee, which met earlier this week to set its oversight plan and confirm leadership positions, will be keeping an eye on national freight policy, on tolling activities in the states, on the CSA safety enforcement program and on the hours-of-service rule.
This oversight activity is just part of the committees portfolio. It also must begin work on the next federal highway program, due October 1, 2014.
Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., outlined the committees strategic task.
"An efficient transportation network is a critical facet of our economy, and without it we cannot compete in the modern global marketplace," he said in a statement.
The committee will focus on strengthening transportation systems for safer, more effective commerce, ensuring regulatory balance and reforming programs.
Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said he looks forward to working with the Republican majority.
"Together, we have a great opportunity, and in my view, a pressing responsibility, to help rebuild America, not only to address our critical infrastructure needs but also to create jobs and increase our global competitiveness," he said in a statement.
The committee announced that Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisc., will chair the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. The ranking Democrat will be Peter DeFazio of Oregon. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the former chairman of the T&I Committee who was term-limited out of that post, will serve on the Highway Subcommittee.
The committee's concern about national freight policy arises from a provision in last years highway law that tells the Department of Transportation to establish a 27,000-mile national freight highway network based on freight volumes and flow. Inland and maritime ports must be included.
The department then must come up with a national freight strategic plan based on the condition of the freight network. Specifically, the plan must look at bottlenecks, forecasts of freight volume, and trade corridors.
In addition, DOT must develop new ways to evaluate freight-related infrastructure projects.
There's a lot of money at stake. The federal government will pick up a greater share of the tab for projects that meet the new freight standards. It will boost the federal payout from 80% to 95% of the cost for projects on the Interstate System, and to 90% for any project DOT certifies as meeting the standards.
Eligible projects include highway construction to eliminate freight bottlenecks, intelligent transportation systems, environmental improvements, highway-rail grade separation, runaway truck lanes and truck parking facilities.
Trucking interests want to make sure that DOT adheres to the letter of congressional intent, first building off of the highway system and then including other modes.
The Highway Subcommittee will be watching as DOT proceeds. It said it will conduct oversight to make sure the surface transportation network is accommodating current and future freight needs.
The Highway Subcommittee said it also will keep an eye on state tolling practices.
The new highway law gives states more latitude to add tolls on Federal-aid highways. Projects that add new lane capacity can be tolled.
The Subcommittee also said it will be watching how the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration develops it CSA safety enforcement program.
The panel held a hearing on CSA last year and has requested an audit of the program by the Transportation Department's Inspector General. That audit is under way.
Another major concern for the subcommittee is a study of the 34-hour restart provision of the hours of service rule.
The study, ordered by last year's highway law, is due next September. The law does not tell FMCSA how, or whether, to apply the results of the study to the rule, although presumably a finding that the rule is, say, ineffective, would influence the agencys approach.
Trucking interests pushed for the study out of concern that the 34-hour restart provision is too restrictive.
The subcommittee said it will keep a close watch on the rulemaking process to make sure that the rule ensures safety and provides for efficient freight movement.