Clash over Mexican truck program sure to continue as project extended

WASHINGTON — U.S. transport officials keep on shrugging off attempts by political opponents and politicians to sink the controversial Mexican truck pilot project.

The one-year cross-border trucking demonstration project, which allows select Mexican carriers to haul freight beyond the longstanding 20-mile commercial restriction zone at the border, will be extended for two years, announced Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator John H. Hill,

The announcement comes days after a bill was introduced in Congress to halt the controversial program. Last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved HR 6630, which orders the Department of Transportation to terminate a pilot program for Mexican motor carriers.

If passed into law, the bill will restrict the DOT from granting authority to allow any more Mexico-based motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zone after Sept. 6. The next step is for the bill to be voted on by the full House next month.

The move is the second major effort by Congress to halt the program. Earlier this year, the Senate voted 75 to 23 and the House voted 411 to 3 to keep the border closed to Mexican trucks. However, the DOT kept it going anyway, arguing that the previous bill’s language refers to funds "to establish" a program, and doesn’t apply to the program already underway.

The new legislation, if passed, would eliminate that loophole, however.

The FMCSA admits the Mexican truck program
has been limited by the uncertainty of its longevity.

Defending the program in his statement, Hill said, "FMCSA has adhered to the law and exceeded requirements established by Congress, both safety and otherwise, for implementing our obligations under NAFTA. To date, the project has shown that U.S. and Mexican carriers can engage in cross-border trucking operations in compliance with applicable laws and with no compromise to public safety or security. In fact, Mexican trucks and drivers have established compliance rates equal or better to those of U.S. trucks and drivers."

However, he did admit that carriers have been scared off from the program because of the controversy surrounding it.

"…(The) participation has been limited by the uncertainty of the project’s longevity," he said. "A number of potential companies have been unwilling to invest the time and resources necessary to participate due to uncertainties concerning the project’s longevity.

"We intend this extension to reassure trucking companies that they will have sufficient time to realize a return on their investment, and we anticipate additional participation with this extra time. The extension will ensure that the demonstration project can be reviewed and evaluated on the basis of a more comprehensive body of data."

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which along with the Teamsters and a handful of special interest groups, has been actively fighting the Mexican truck program, said the FMCSA’s newest move was unfortunate, but not surprising.

"When it comes to this program, the administration has flaunted the will of Congress and certainly the will of the American people and has callous disregard for America’s trucking industry," said OOIDA executive VP Todd Spencer. 

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