SPECIAL REPORT: Cross-border program extended despite opposition

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 8/4/2008

Monday, Aug. 4, 2008 – The controversial cross-border trucking program with Mexico will continue for two more years despite widespread opposition from just about everyone from highway users to Congress.

John Hill, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, announced a two-year extension of the program today. The DOT originally set the program to conclude on Sept. 6.

Hill said a number of companies were unwilling to participate in the program because of the uncertainties swirling around the project’s longevity.

The uncertainty can be tied to widespread opposition from a number of groups including everyone from Congress down to highway user groups such as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

The program has continued for 11 months despite an ongoing court challenge by OOIDA; a funding cut passed by Congress and signed into law; and numerous other votes in favor of shutting the program down.

Despite all of this, the DOT forged ahead with the program – which includes only 27 Mexican motor carriers with 107 trucks participating, far below the DOT’s anticipated 100 carriers.

Now, with what was supposed to be just a little more than a month of life left in the program, it has sustained yet another blow. The most recent hit was the passage of a bill in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this past week.

The bill not only seeks to mandate the end of the program on its one-year anniversary – Sept. 6 – but also goes much further. The bipartisan effort would also restrict any more authority to operate beyond the border zones from being doled out to Mexican motor carriers without prior approval from Congress.

Members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the bill unanimously on a voice vote this past week.

The sponsors of the legislation – Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR; along with co-sponsors Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN; Rep. John Mica, R-FL; and Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-TN – introduced the bill and fast-tracked it through committee to have it ready for a full House vote after the August recess.

The fact that the announcement of program’s extension happened just after Congress recessed for August was not lost on Oberstar.

The Chair of the T&I Committee quickly issued a statement Monday, Aug. 4, taking the DOT to task.

“Just days after the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has approved a bipartisan bill to hold DOT to its original plan and terminate this pilot program after one year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announces its intent to extend this program for two more years,” Oberstar said in a written statement. “It also made the announcement on the first day of the congressional recess. That is certainly no coincidence.”

The timing of FMCSA’s announcement did little to dampen Oberstar’s determination to move the bill through the House quickly.

“When Congress reconvenes in September, I intend to move our bill as quickly as possible, and make certain that the voice of Congress is heard loud and clear at the Department of Transportation, and that this program is finally shut down,” he said in his written statement.

The current legislative effort isn’t the only thing that could shut down the cross-border program. A decision on a pair of lawsuits filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco could also mean an end for the program.

OOIDA’s legal team filed one of the lawsuits on Sept. 7, 2007 – literally the day after the cross-border program started. The case was argued Feb. 12 before a three-judge panel.

To read more on OOIDA’s court challenge, click here and here.

Various media outlets have speculated for months that a decision could be handed down by the 9th Circuit “any day” now.

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