U.S. plans to map out new Mexican truck project

Safe, modern Mexican rigs await dispatch at a terminal in Nuevo Laredo.
Safe, modern Mexican rigs await dispatch at a terminal in Nuevo Laredo.
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration will try to reinvent a program to allow Mexican trucks full access to U.S. highways.

An 18-month pilot program that allowed a few Mexican trucks beyond a border buffer zone died when President Barack Obama signed a $410 billion spending bill yesterday. The bill barred spending on the program.

Debbie Mesloh, a spokeswoman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said Obama has told the office to work with Congress, the Transportation and State departments and Mexican officials to come up with legislation to create “a new trucking project that will meet the legitimate concerns” of Congress and U.S. commitments under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The United States prohibits most Mexican trucks from driving past a narrow zone beyond the southern border, ranging from 20 miles in most cases to 75 miles in Arizona. Canadian trucks have no limits on where they can go.

In San Diego County, many drivers from Mexico transfer their loads to U.S. operators for delivery to the U.S. interior. Some Mexican fleet owners have operations in both countries. The United States agreed to lift that ban after signing NAFTA with Canada and Mexico.

The limits were imposed after lawmakers voiced safety concerns. Mexico has long called it an unfair effort to protect U.S. jobs.

Instead of full access, a pilot program was created that allowed up to 500 Mexican trucks from 100 operators to make long hauls into the United States. It also allowed U.S. agencies to conduct inspections and other safety activities. San Diego-based Qualcomm was awarded a federal contract to install a satellite-based tracking system in participating trucks to monitor their compliance with U.S. regulations.

Officials said only 103 Mexican trucks belonging to 26 carriers participated in the program. Ten U.S. carriers with 61 trucks plied Mexico’s roads.

With constant legal and congressional challenges to the pilot program, the Bush administration had said uncertainty over its future resulted in low participation and made assessing the program difficult.

Some participating companies, including at least one from San Diego, have said they hadn’t seen much benefit from the program. Still, California was second to Texas in the number of border crossings made by Mexican trucks.

Meanwhile, California’s air-quality regulators warned from the outset that the opening of the state’s freeways and ports of entry to older, diesel-fueled Mexican trucks could dramatically increase toxic pollutants.

Under pressure from labor, safety and other groups, Congress cut off spending on the program in 2007. But last year, the Bush administration used a loophole to keep it operating.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., sponsor of the provision in the spending bill that ended the program, wrote Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood this month to say he doesn’t oppose Mexican long-haul trucks on U.S. roads, but wants them to be safe.

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, cheered the end of the truck program.

“I am pleased that Congress has reclaimed its ability to have some bearing on the obligations contained in the surface transportation provisions of NAFTA and has voted for this step forward for highway safety,” Oberstar said.

The Mexican government has protested the trucks ban and prohibits U.S. trucks from driving far into Mexico. It could take additional retaliatory steps, such as raising tariffs on U.S. goods. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has warned of just such a backlash from Mexico.

The Obama administration’s announcement yesterday to revisit the truck program did not comfort Mexican officials.

“Mexico still believes that the United States’ noncompliance on this issue, more than 14 years overdue, is a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement,” said embassy spokesman Ricardo Alday.

Alday said opposition to the program has never been about safety.

“During the cross-border trucking demonstration program’s 18 months of operation, 26 carriers from Mexico – with 103 trucks – and 10 from the U.S. – with 61 trucks – crossed the border over 45,000 times without a significant incident,” Alday told the Los Angeles Times.

He said Mexico is willing to continue to work with the United States “in finding a solution that honors its international obligation.”

By Suzanne Gamboa
We keep those lying sacks of shit, Todd Spencer of OOIDA and Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters out of the process and we might find a solution. Keeping in mind that this only delays the program once more, and only until September of 2009

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