SPECIAL REPORT: Boyda bill aims to rein in DOT's ‘mad rush’

| 3/30/2007

Friday, March 30, 2007 - The proposed pilot program for Mexican carriers is being challenged by a second stand-alone bill in the House of Representatives.

On Thursday, Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-KS, introduced the Safe American Roads Act of 2007.

"Today, trucks registered in Mexico can drive only inside narrow border zones in the United States before their cargoes are transferred to an American vehicle. That's a good system; it's working," Boyda said.

"It keeps America's highways safe from poorly regulated Mexican traffic, prevents drug smuggling and illegal immigration, and protects American transportation jobs."

Boyda's bill - HR1773 - takes steps to ensure that if the proposed pilot program goes forward, but not at the cost of highway safety or national security. It also is designed to protect the American worker.

"This administration's mad rush toward unrestricted trade should never endanger America's citizens or their jobs," Boyda said.

One of the chief stumbling blocks the DOT has faced in opening the border is Section 350 of the 2002 Transportation Appropriations Act. Boyda's bill would require the DOT to comply with all 22 requirements of Section 350.

That may not seem any different that what is supposed to happen right now before the border opens, but that language will actually clear up a few problems, according to Rod Nofziger, OOIDA's Director of Government Affairs.

While the DOT's Office of Inspector General is supposed to certify eight of the 22 provisions in Section 350, only six of those have received that all-important certification. Provisions related to hazardous materials and bus safety have not been certified by the OIG, according to Nofziger.

Despite the fact those two provisions have not been certified, the DOT has moved forward with the proposed pilot program - simply because hazmat and buses weren't included in it, Nofziger said.

The language in Boyda's bill clears up any doubt that all eight provisions must be certified by the Office of Inspector General before any pilot program gets off the ground.

The Safe American Roads Act of 2007 would prevent the Department of Transportation from granting authority to Mexican motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones, except under a pilot program that meets the Title 49 requirements.

The bill outlines plenty of obligations the DOT would have to meet before, during and after any such pilot program.

Before any pilot program gets started, the bill would require the DOT to provide notice and opportunity for public comment on the details of the program. The specific dates of the beginning and end of the pilot program would also have to be published. The bill also would restrict the pilot program to no more than one year.

The notice would also have to give insight into what will be in place to protect the health and safety of the public - including enforcement measures and penalties for non-compliance - as well as how the DOT will go about evaluating the success or failure of the program.

Assurances of full compliance wouldn't be left up to the DOT.

Boyda's bill would also required the DOT Inspector General review the program and determine whether Mexico-domiciled motor carriers participating in the pilot program are in full compliance with U.S. motor carrier safety laws, including the provisions detailed in Section 350, and a report to Congress within 90 days of completion of the pilot program.

The Safe American Roads Act of 2007 also tackles the fact that as it stands now, Mexican motor carriers will have full access months before U.S. carriers are allowed to operate in Mexico.

The bill would prohibit starting any pilot program until U.S. motor carrier companies are allowed to begin comparable operations in Mexico;

The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-MN, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, Highways and Transit Subcommittee chairman.

- By Jami Jones, senior editor