Several US concerns appear to be a sticking point in opening US borders to Mexican trucks within the next 45-60 days, according to information presented to a joint meeting of two Senate subcommittees June 27.
Norman Mineta, Secretary of Transportation, and Kenneth Mead, Department of Transportation inspector general, advised the joint committees of the problems. One concern is centered on the second training class for new border investigators, not scheduled to be completed until November 22.
In addition, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which will oversee fleets crossing the border, has not yet hired five border supervisors to oversee the activities of investigators, auditors, and inspectors. At this juncture, FMCSA plans to rely on existing supervisors and FMCSA state directors.
"FMCSA plans to fill all five supervisory positions by July 15, 2002," Mead said. "However, supervisors will be required to attend the nine-week investigator training, if they have not already been trained as investigators. The first investigator class begins July 29, 2002, and ends September 27, 2002.
"Now that the Inspector General has issued his report, by law I must evaluate it and determine if I can certify that opening the border does not pose an unacceptable safety risk," said Mineta. "The inspector general has raised a few issues, and we are working hard to address them. I want to assure you, on behalf of President Bush, that the border will not be opened unless it can be done safely. We do expect to fully address all issues identified in the IG’s report, to allow the border to open in the near future."
Mead also pointed out that only two states, Arizona and California, have authorized enforcement personnel to take action when they encounter a vehicle operating without authority. Enforcement personnel in all states are authorized to remove drivers and commercial vehicles from service for serious safety violations, such as operating without a valid commercial driver license, or operating a vehicle with defective brakes. However, operating in the United States without valid operating authority is not considered a safety violation, so Arizona and California enforcement officials would be the only ones authorized to enforce the violation.
"The primary concern is not necessarily long-haul carriers whose authority will be checked every 90 days, but rather carriers only authorized to operate in the commercial zones," Mead said.
On a more positive note, Mineta said numerous conditions required by Congress before Mexican-domiciled motor carriers can operate outside border commercial zones have been met.
"To date, 31 Mexican long-haul carriers have applied for authority to operate in the interior of the United States, and 101 have applied to operate within the commercial zones, Mineta said. "It appears that interest among Mexican carriers for expanded authority is beginning at a somewhat gradual pace. Applications from the carriers will be processed as they are submitted."