Four days after Congressional moves were made to end the contentious demonstration program, the Department of Transportation announced a two-year extension of it. Begun on September 6, 2007, the program allows a restricted number of Mexican trucks to operate within the US, beyond the 25-mile restricted commercial zone at the southern border. A limited number of US trucks have been allowed to operate within Mexico as part of the program.

The demonstration project engendered opposition from a number of organizations. Most vocal among opponents have been the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). Objections have focused on the qualifications of Mexican drivers and the safety of Mexican equipment being used, among other issues.

Representatives sponsoring legislation to end the program are Peter DeFazio (Dem.-OR), James Oberstar (Dem.-MN), John J. Duncan (Rep.-TN) and John Mica (Rep.-FL). H.R. 6630 calls for termination of the project on September 6, 2008, exactly one year after it began. The bill received unanimous approval from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee which has sent it to be acted on by the full House when it returns from the August recess.

Congress has previously attempted to shut the program down by banning funding for it in a federal law that went into effect on December 26, 2007. DOT did not terminate the program then.

Days after the House Committee’s actions DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator, John H. Hill, announced the cross border trucking demonstration project would be extended for an additional two years. Part of the reasoning was that companies might have been reluctant to participate because they are unsure of how long the project will last. With the extension, says Hill in a statement, they may join, making it possible to review and evaluate the project with more comprehensive data.

“FMCSA has adhered to the law and exceeded requirements established by Congress, both safety and otherwise, for implementing our obligations under NAFTA,” claims Hill. “To date, the project has shown that US 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 US trucks and drivers.”

In reaction to the announced extension, Teamster general president James P. Hoffa, said, “The blatant disregard that [DOT Secretary] Peters, Hill and the Bush administration have shown to Congress, which has time and again expressed overwhelming opposition to this unsafe program, is outrageous. They have continued down this dangerous road that threatens American drivers and their families despite a federal law that bans funding for the program. The federal law took effect on Dec. 26, 2007, yet the FMCSA claimed it did not understand its intent and refused to shut down the pilot project, which began shortly after Labor Day last year.”

Saying the Secretary of Transportation is continuing to flout the will of Congress, Representative Oberstar vowed that, “When Congress reconvenes in September, I intend to have the full House of Representatives approve 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.”

On the day after the program began last year, OOIDA filed a lawsuit intended to halt it with the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco. The case has been argued and awaits judgment.

Related article: Cross-border program extended two years (Fleet Owner)

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