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Senator slams U.S.-Mexico cross-border pilot project

Senator slams U.S.-Mexico cross-border pilot project

   One day after a U.S. House committee held hearings on the safety of a Bush administration cross-border pilot program to allow Mexican-owned trucks to operate on virtually all U.S. highways, an Arkansas senator has joined the fray, expressing his 'disappointment' over the project.

   U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., expressed his concerns in a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters. The letter, released Wednesday, expressed the Pryor’s concerns about the project, noting his 'disappointment' with the department and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s 'lack of communication' with regard to the Feb. 23 go-ahead announcement of the pilot program. Pryor reminded Peters in the letter that he had asked her about the status of such a plan during her confirmation hearing last September.

   'During my questioning, you clearly stated that you questioned staff at DOT about the pilot program and were told that there was no immediate plan to implement such a program. You also stated that you would get down to the bottom of the ’so-called’ rumors surrounding the issue,' Pryor wrote. 'I concluded my questioning by stating that I would very much appreciate having a dialogue with your department and the agencies that may be developing this program. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to hear from you or FMCSA regarding this pilot program.'

   The senator goes on to note his concerns about the DOT’s ability 'to ensure 100 percent compliance to all safety, insurance and emission standards as well as fees and taxes currently required for domestic trucks, drivers and trucking companies.

   'The department’s failure to communicate the plan to rollout this program has frustrated me. I believe there are other members on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology and in the Senate that share my concerns. I’m hopeful that the Senate will soon examine the Department’s proposal and the lack of communication between the Department and Members of Congress,' Pryor said.

   During opening remarks of a Capitol Hill hearing on the project Wednesday, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee, and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chair of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, called for a top-to-bottom review of the project by the DOT Inspector General’s office.

   Oberstar and DeFazio are asking the DOT Inspector General to:

   •  Investigate how Mexican drivers are checked for compliance with U.S. labors while operating in the United States and prior to reaching the border.

   •  Determine how U.S. drug and alcohol testing standards are being applied to Mexican drivers.

   •  Identify how Mexican carriers are receiving U.S. insurance.

   •    Report any problems with inaccurate or incomplete data on vehicles and drivers submitted by Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to the DOT.

   The representatives also raised concerns about adequate staffing of the program.

   'Under the NAFTA ruling the U.S. retains the right to enforce its safety standards on Mexican trucks,' DeFazio said, 'however, this right is virtually meaningless if the U.S. does not have enough inspectors to monitor the large number of trucks crossing the border.'