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American Shipper

DOT cross-border program faces delay, changes

DOT cross-border program faces delay, changes

The U.S. Department of Transportation responded to vocal criticism and lawsuits Monday by changing two key aspects of a proposed demonstration project to allow Mexican-domiciled trucks to carry cargo deep into the United States.

   Congressional leaders, activists and labor unions have been critical of the lack of public notice and input about the cross-border program since it was announced by the DOT early this year.

   In response, the DOT said Monday it would publish official details of the program in the Federal Register May 1 and accept comment for 30 days.

   In recent weeks, the Teamsters Union, the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and the Environmental Law Foundation have all filed suit over the public transparency concerns.

   Congressional leaders in Congress said Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters, in making the changes, had effectively chosen to postpone implementation of the project, which was scheduled to start any day.

   “This delay will provide Congress with an opportunity to evaluate the proposal and its impacts on safety and on commerce,” said Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn. Oberstar, head of a key transportation committee, has been critical of the program since its announcement by the administration.

   “I continue to be highly concerned about the preparedness of Mexican trucking companies and their drivers to abide by the same strict standards that apply to U.S. motor carrier operations,” he said.

   In a second change, Peters said in a statement that U.S. trucks would be able to operate in Mexico from the start of the program. The original schedule for the plan, which had also faced considerable criticism from labor and trucking groups, called for U.S. trucks to have access to Mexico six months after the program began letting the Mexico-domiciled trucks enter the U.S.

   Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told the Associated Press that the earlier entry time for U.S. trucks was “good news” that will “restore fairness to this important program.”

   When the project was first announced in February, Peters said Mexican trucks could enter the United States by late April. While the department has not said when the program would begin, it will likely be sometime after the 30-day comment period announced Monday.

   The pilot program will allow 100 Mexican truck companies to operate 1,000 Mexico-domiciled trucks beyond a current 20-mile zone just inside the U.S.-Mexican border.