Rep. Lipinski Snags Key Freight Panel Slot
By Greg Hinz, Crain's Chicago Business
April 16, 2013
In a potential boost for the Chicago area's key freight sector, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago, has been named to a special House panel that will review ways to untangle the nation's often-snarled railroad transportation system.
Mr. Lipinski is one of five Democrats and six Republicans being appointed to the group by House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa. The panel will examine not only what needs to be done but, probably more important, how to pay for it.
Most of the members come from coastal areas, with Mr. Lipinski the only one from the Midwest.
"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," Mr. Shuster said in a statement.
"Bottlenecks during any leg of that journey from the manufacturer to the market drive up costs," added Rep. John Duncan, a Tennessee Republican who will chair the group. "Improving the flow of freight across all modes of transportation is so critical to a healthy economy."
Mr. Lipinski clearly views his position on the panel as a spot to push more funding for Create, a multibillion-dollar plan to speed rail traffic through Chicago by building new overpasses, underpasses and other projects that has received only initial funding.
"This is the perfect place to talk about Create and move that issue forward," Mr. Lipinski said in an interview last night. "Create is one of the biggest freight issues in the entire country."
The group has been given a fairly short time line, with the first hearing set for April 24 and recommendations due within six months. Mr. Lipinski said he's pushing for at least one hearing in Chicago so that members can see why it sometimes takes longer to move trains though the city than it did for the trains to travel here from the West Coast.
The House panel also could get into the contentious issue of the Chicago River system and whether to reverse its flow back into Lake Michigan, Mr. Lipinski said.
The real question is whether the group can devise some consensus ideas on how to fund needed work. The highway trust fund, which pays for surface transportation projects, has run short of cash in recent years because of declining funds from gasoline taxes, and Democrats and Republicans have been unable to agree on an alternate funding mechanism.
Last year, ruling House Republicans moved to strip funding for mass transit out of the gasoline tax pot, but Democrats and some suburban Republicans here balked, and GOP leadership eventually backed off.
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