DOT ‘close’ to cross-border trucking plan

| 3/5/2010

Although no details were disclosed, the Department of Transportation is “close” to presenting a plan to Congress on a cross-border trucking program with Mexico.

The assurance that the DOT is moving forward on plans to reopen the border to long-haul trucks from Mexico came during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing held on Thursday, March 4.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, questioned DOT Secretary Ray LaHood about the DOT’s progress on a cross-border program. Murray’s line of questioning stemmed from her concern over the impact of the tariffs that Mexico slapped on products from her home state following the closure of the cross-border pilot program last year.

“Those tariffs were imposed on 90 U.S. products and undermined the competiveness of many agriculture products in my home state of Washington,” she told LaHood during the hearing.

“These tariffs are going to send jobs north to Canada ... and are threatening the livelihood of many in my state.”

LaHood, while very animated in earlier exchanges with lawmakers during the hearing, was notably reserved – although short on detail – as he assured Murray the DOT was working toward a resolution with Mexico

“We are finalizing a plan. The reason it is taking so long is because there are a lot of different moving parts, including about five different Cabinet officials. And every time we make a tweak or a change everyone has to sign off on it,” LaHood told Murray.

Safety concerns continue to be the hot button of conversation between lawmakers and officials within the DOT. LaHood attempted to assure Murray those concerns had not been forgotten, even though he did not hint as to what a new cross-border program might entail.

“We’re very near a proposal that we think will meet all the safety concerns that I heard when I talked with 25 members of Congress,” he said. “We’re close to talking to all of you about what we think are our way of addressing the safety concerns Congress brought to us.”

Murray mentioned during the exchange that she had also met with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk about the tariffs – adding to the mounting pressure on Kirk to address the tariffs.

Lawmakers and organizations, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, have continued to increase the pressure on Kirk’s office to address the tariffs – tariffs that have been called “illegal” and “retaliatory.”

Kirk, while once quoted as saying the easiest way to resolve the tariff dispute would be to open the border, has been quiet on any details his office may have on resolving the dispute.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor

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