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House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster has tapped six committee members to help formulate a national intermodal freight plan that will tie together road, rail, air cargo, ports and inland waterways infrastructure planning and policy.

Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., will head the special panel, which will work for six months to produce a series of recommendations that will be a cornerstone of the next highway bill. The current authorization (PL 112-141) expires in September 2014.

“They’re going to be looking at the current state of freight and what we can do to make the connections between modes work better,” said Shuster, who is expected to announce the panel on Tuesday. “Currently we have three subcommittees with jurisdiction over freight policy. I think it’s important that we see those modes working together. Too often, the conversation is one mode or another.”

The 2012 surface transportation authorization did not include a national freight strategy to coordinate road, rail, water and air freight connections, which some lawmakers including Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., had advocated. The conference report did direct the Federal Highway Administration to identify and establish a nationwide network of roads and bridges considered essential to moving freight and encouraged planners to consider connections to other freight-moving modes.

But that provision stopped short of establishing a freight network and planning for its future, which business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have described as an important policy goal. Rockefeller said at a hearing of his panel last week that the imminent expansion of the Panama Canal to accommodate larger ships “has the potential to transform how freight is moved into and throughout this country.”

Shortly after Shuster took over as chairman in January, he announced that Duncan would head a series of special committees overseeing a number of legislative initiatives. This panel is the first of that series and is being modeled on a House Armed Services Committee panel last year that generated 30 recommendations to improve policies for contractors doing business with the Defense Department.

Shuster chaired that panel, and said 18 of those recommendations have already become law.

Joining Duncan on the panel will be Republicans Gary G. Miller of California, whose district includes part of the Long Beach/Los Angeles port complex, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Richard Hanna of New York, Daniel Webster of Florida and Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma.

Ranking member Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia is expected to name Jerold Nadler of New York to serve as the special panel’s top Democrat. Other Democrats on the committee will be Corrine Brown of Florida, Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, Albio Sires of New Jersey and Janice Hahn of California. Hahn serves as cochairwoman of the Congressional Ports Caucus.

The special committee is expected to begin meeting April 24.

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