The cross-border trucking demonstration project will be extended for two years as permitted under U.S. law, announced John H. Hill, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator.
"I am pleased with the success of our demonstration project, but the participation has been limited by the uncertainty of the project's longevity," Hill said in a statement. "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 announcement comes on the heels of action in Congress to halt the controversial program. the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for making headway on a bill to put an end to an unsafe trucking 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. The bill was sponsored by Representatives Peter DeFazio, James Oberstar, John J. Duncan Jr. and John Mica. If passed into law, the bill will restrict the U.S. Department of Transportation 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, probably after the August recess.
It's not the first time Congress has tried to put the brakes on the program. An appropriations bill signed by President Bush last December said that federal funds cannot be used to establish a cross-border program. But since the program was already established when Bush signed the bill, DOT contends that the funding restriction does not apply, because it was not "establishing" a program, but rather continuing one already in place. The new legislation would eliminate that loophole.
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."
Hill also tried to link the program to strengthening the weak U.S. economy. "Since 75 percent of our trade with Mexico moves by truck, transportation efficiency is key to the competitiveness of our manufacturers, ranchers, and farmers. This project supports our economy by saving consumers' money, reducing shipping costs and giving U.S. trucking companies and drivers new opportunities. At a time of surging goods exports, we could hardly choose a worse time to turn our back on open trade and investment and embrace a protectionist agenda, especially in the very sector that makes trade in goods and services possible."
The extension of the demonstration project is discussed in a Federal Register notice issued today. The notice is available online at http://federalregister.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2008-17946_PI.pdf