WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of
Transportation has delayed plans to open the border to
long-haul Mexican trucks until at least Thursday, after
earlier reports that it could happen over Labor Day weekend.
In a filing yesterday in the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals in San Francisco, government attorneys said the
agency expects to get the OK from its inspector general on
Wednesday that would allow it to begin the controversial
cross border trucking experiment.
The agency “anticipates that the program will not begin
before Thursday,” the U.S. Justice Department said in its
response to a Teamsters union lawsuit that seeks an
emergency injunction to block the border opening.
Attorneys for both sides said last night they had no
indication of how soon the court might act.
The disclosure marks the first time the agency has
publicly given a specific date when the long-delayed program
The government court filing said that on the first day of
the program only two Mexican carriers operating a total of
seven trucks will be granted permission to cross the border.
One is Luciano Padilla Martínez, a Tijuana-based company
that said it will send five trucks into the United States.
The other firm that would get immediate operating
authority is Fernando Páez Treviño, a carrier in Apodaca,
U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters in February
announced plans for a one-year pilot program to test the
safety of Mexican trucks in the United States. The agency
now appears on the verge of commencing the project, in which
up to 100 pre-approved Mexican carriers would be able to
send hundreds of trucks throughout the United States for the
first time since 1982.
American truckers who receive approval from the Mexican
government would be able to travel in Mexico for the first
time under the program.
The Bush administration is pushing to start the
experiment as soon as possible as a step toward a wider
opening of the border to commercial traffic, as required in
the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Critics, including several trucking and safety
organizations and dozens of lawmakers, complain the
administration has failed to guarantee the trucks will be
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, blasted the Department of
Transportation for “demonstrating complete disregard for the
safety of vehicle motorists and the security threat created
by granting Mexican truckers unrestricted access into the
He accused the agency of ignoring congressional
“We feel like we have met the requirements,” said John H.
Hill, who oversees the program as administrator of the
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. He added that
an upcoming assessment from the inspector general might
identify some “issues and concerns” that the agency will
have to address.
The pilot program cannot go forward until the inspector
general certifies it has met congressional requirements.
Hill said the agency also must file a report with
Congress responding to the assessment before it can start.
The inspector general's office has confidentially briefed
congressional staff about the upcoming report this week.
One staff member familiar with the briefings said the
inspector general had some concerns but they were “not huge
The lawsuit filed by the Teamsters and a handful of other
groups Wednesday alleges the agency has failed to comply
with several congressional requirements – including giving
U.S. carriers simultaneous access to Mexican highways and
marshaling a statistically valid sample of drivers for the
The government responded that the project will satisfy
all congressional requirements, while requiring Mexican
carriers to pass pre-certification inspections and comply
with the same requirements as American truck drivers.
In an interview, Hill said no Mexican trucks would be
allowed to cross the border until U.S. trucks get the same
“We will not start it unless Mexico grants authority at
the same time” to U.S. truckers, he said.
The agency defended its sample of up to 100 carriers,
which it said is one-tenth of the number of Mexican trucking
companies that applied to cross the border.
The agency estimated the 100 carriers would send 540
trucks into the United States.
The government said further delays to the program could
jeopardize diplomatic and trade relations with Mexico.
Hill said up to 44 Mexican trucks would come into the
United States in the first few days of the program. “And by
month's end, maybe a total of 174,” he added.