With improvements at the Port of Brownsville forthcoming and investments into the county’s International Bridge System setting the stage for growth, the trucking industry has weighed heavily on the minds of business-savvy officials throughout Cameron County as of late.
Increasing freight and truck traffic at the bridges is a great way to pad the county’s revenue stream while making
the area near the Port an even better location for companies to relocate as they seek to streamline costs.
And although gains have been made, truckers continue to head in droves toward crossings in Hidalgo County to the west, despite having to travel an extra 40 miles along dangerous Mexican highways.
Time is money in the trucking industry, so delays caused by inspections can prove expensive.
And the best way to avoid excessive inspections, truckers have said, is to cross at Reynosa, where statistics show fewer inspections, fewer violations and faster crossing times that make it worth it to detour west before heading to the Port.
County, state and Texas Department of Public Safety officials met with trucking industry representatives Wednesday for the fourth time in the past year to discuss ways to ease what trucker’s perceive as unfair treatment when passing through Cameron County.
“Cameron is being picked on,” County Judge Carlos H. Cascos told those gathered at the Dancy Building. “That’s the perception.”
That perception is quickly having real effects on the county’s ability to do business, as Juan Antonio Turrubiates, who spoke on behalf of truckers in the area, pointed out that it is more efficient for his trucks to cross into Hidalgo County rather than risk additional inspections at the Cameron County ports of entry.
Port of Brownsville Director Eddie Campirano concurred.
“It’s driving truck traffic away,” he said.
The issue, Turrubiates said, is that after undergoing U.S. Customs inspections at the Cameron County bridges, trucks are submitted to random inspections. However, despite the inspections being considered “random,” he said all trucks entering the country at Cameron County bridges are forced to stop, at least to have their lights checked.
Bottlenecking at the border occurs when there aren’t enough slots for the light inspections, he said, not to mention the fact that DPS troopers have the right to fully inspect commercial vehicles without probable cause.
Exacerbating the problem is the large number of DPS troopers who stop trucks again outside of San Benito, Turrubiates said, meaning that some trucks are inspected three times between Matamoros and Harlingen.
Cascos said he had heard of trucks being inspected multiple times in the same day. As the anecdotal evidence against DPS stacked up, Capt. Fred B. Whisenant Jr. said carriers need only to notify his office about instances like that.
But handing over that information isn’t as easy as it seems, Turrubiates said, as carriers and truckers work in fear of retaliation from DPS troopers.
“Carriers fear it will be held against them,” he said. “Drivers say they feel intimidated.”
That intimidation is especially real for Mexican drivers who depend on work visas to keep their jobs, he said.
Cascos said he wanted to hear other solutions beyond seeking information “after the fact,” asking Turrubiates to talk about his recommendations.
Turrubiates suggested offering a week per quarter during which DPS can inspect trucks and give Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance stickers, clearing them from routine inspections for 60 to 90 days.
The stickers are typically handed out at the point of inspection, but Turrubiates said DPS employees are frequently out of the stickers.
DPS Regional Commander Jose C. Rodriguez III acknowledged the high rate of inspections at Cameron County bridges, noting that overstaffing at Los Tomates or Veterans Bridge and Los Indios had, in the past, led to more inspections.
The overstaffing has been remedied, he said, noting that there is only one sergeant at Los Tomates now — a downsize from two.
He also suggested that the ample space at Los Tomates makes it possible for more trucks to be inspected, but in Hidalgo County there is a limited amount of space for out-of-service trucks and trailers, meaning DPS troopers can’t stop as many trucks for full inspections.
“What hinders us is the infrastructure,” he said of ports of entry elsewhere, adding after the meeting that even if he had 100 troopers at the Pharr bridge there still wouldn’t be enough room to perform as many inspections as in Cameron County.
Rodriguez agreed with the insinuation that Cameron County’s bridges seem to be more DPS-friendly while those to the west are more enticing for truckers.
That, it appeared, settled a question posed by State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, who asked whether the “gold standard” is the comprehensive and time-intensive screenings at Cameron County or the expedited crossings in Hidalgo and Webb counties.
Lucio asked whether DPS was “overinspecting” here or “underinspecting” elsewhere in the district.
Rodriguez said while the delays at Cameron County bridges are inspiring requests for leniency from truckers today, staffing shifts in the near future could cause the complaints to swing westward.
Rodriguez and Turrubiates agreed to get together to discuss solution options, including the week-long inspection effort or training mechanics alongside DPS inspectors to help detect the issues that come up.
35 years in the trucking business and living in Mexico for the past 15 years, make me uniquely qualified to offer my insight and opinion into the Mexican trucking industry and other border issues. A contributor to SiriuxXM Road Dog Channel 106 and to the award winning Lockridge Report, Mexico Trucker Online continues to publish the unvarnished truth about the subjects we cover.