- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A Bush administration plan to proceed with a pilot program to give Mexican truckers full access of U.S. roads has caused a bipartisan uproar on Capitol Hill.

“The cross-border trucking program is bad for America,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and presidential candidate. “It appears, under the current program, that commercial interests are being pushed ahead of the safety and security interests of the American people.”

The Teamsters union and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trade association representing the independent truck owner-operators and professional drivers, also oppose the program, saying Mexican trucking companies have poor safety figures, do not keep reliable records on accidents, and do not dependably test drivers for drugs and alcohol.

“It’s apparent the Bush administration is thumbing its nose at the will of the American people and Congress,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Mexican-registered trucks are allowed to make deliveries and pickups in the U.S. only within special commercial zones along the U.S.-Mexican border that extend up to about 70 miles inside U.S. territory. But several months ago, President Bush announced plans for a Department of Transportation test program to begin this summer that would permit 100 Mexican-based trucking companies to travel anywhere in the U.S.

Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill complained the program would pose serious safety concerns, and the House last month voted 411-3 to place a series of restrictions on Mexican trucks and their drivers, designed to delay the administration’s program indefinitely.

The Safe American Road Act was sponsored by Rep. Nancy Boyda, Kansas Democrat. Ten of the 52 co-sponsors were Republicans.

“We’re going to have a major accident somewhere, and people are going to say, ‘How did this happen?’ ” said Rep. Bob Filner, California Democrat, on the House floor just before the May 14 vote.

The Senate has not taken up its version of the House’s bill.

The Transportation Department, however, says that Mexican trucking companies are only required to meet safety criteria included in the Iraq war supplemental-spending bill signed into law by Mr. Bush on May 25, and is proceeding with its plan to allow Mexican trucks into the country.

“We’re dealing with the bill that was already signed into law,” said Melissa Mazzella DeLaney, a spokeswoman with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is part of the Transportation Department. “We’re certainly very committed to this program. It’s one of the top priorities in the department right now.”

The Transportation Department said it won’t give Mexican truckers access to U.S. roads until its inspector general completes an audit of the program. The department also must wait until the conclusion of a public comment period that ends on Thursday.

The agency hopes to start the program no later than the end of the year, Ms. DeLaney said.

The new pilot program was designed to simplify a process that currently requires Mexican truckers to stop and wait for U.S. trucks to arrive and transfer cargo. The process wastes money, drives up the cost of goods, and leaves trucks loaded with cargo idling inside U.S. borders, the department says.

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