Appropriations Bill Will Cut Cross-Border Program

March 10, 2009

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Among many other things, the 1,132-page omnibus spending bill that President Obama is expected to sign today will shut down a controversial pilot program that allowed Mexican trucking companies to operate beyond U.S.-Mexico border zones.

Though Congress tried down the Bush administration's pilot program to open the border in the 2008 appropriations, the Bush administration found a loophole in language that prohibited the "establishment" of a program, saying since the program was already established, there was no ban on continuing it. And last year, the DOT announced it will extend the program for another two years.

This bill is more clear, saying, "None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available under this Act may be used, directly or indirectly, to establish, implement, continue, promote, or in any way permit a cross-border motor carrier demonstration program to allow Mexican-domiciled motor carriers to operate beyond the commercial zones along the international border between the United States and Mexico."

Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa, one of the big critics of the Mexican truck program, applauded the move.

"There is no doubt that Congress has once and for all killed the Bush administration's expensive and illegal pilot project to open the border to Mexican trucks," Hoffa said.

However, an independent panel late last year issued a report noting that while there are too few participants for a statistically valid sample, the Mexican carriers that did participate in the pilot program had not had any accidents, and they had much lower out-of-service rates for both drivers and trucks than U.S. carriers do. (See "Cross-Border Program Gets Good Review", Heavy Duty Trucking, December 2008.)

The program cost U.S. taxpayers $500 million, according to the Washington Post. The Transportation Department's inspector general reported on Feb. 6 that Mexican trucks made only 1,443 trips beyond the border zone, or about three per day. The cost of the program would therefore be more than $300,000 per trip, noted a Teamsters release.

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