This week in transportation: Big agenda gets rolling

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The current measures that deal with those issues have been identified by Transportation Committee leaders as top priorities for 2013. The bills, the Water Resources Development Act and Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, are expected to dominate the panel's agenda for most of the year.

The rail hearing will be chaired by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who is a vocal opponent of high-speed funding in his home state.

Denham's appointment to lead the Transportation Committee's Rail subcommittee drew apprehension from rail supporters because of the California lawmaker's previous efforts to eliminate funding for a high-speed railway there that has received $3 billion from the Obama administration.

Additionally this week, the Transportation Committee's Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on reducing piracy of U.S. ships in international waters, focusing on places like Africa.

In the Senate, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday about impact of the expansion of the Panama Canal on freight shipping in the U.S.

The hearing will be chaired by Sen. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerLobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: Senate panel to vote on Dem FCC commissioner MORE (D-W.Va.), who said in a statement announcing the meeting that it was important for the U.S. to take full advantage of the Panama Canal's expansion.

“The role of the Panama Canal in U.S. trade during the last century cannot be understated,” Rockefeller said. “Now that the Panama Canal is being expanded to allow larger vessels, the U.S. needs to develop a comprehensive transportation infrastructure strategy for the next century.

"An expanded Panama Canal has the potential to transform how freight is moved into and throughout this country," the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman continued. "We cannot be caught flat-footed when ships twice the size of current vessels begin to cross from the Pacific to Atlantic Oceans and want to do business with our ports.”