WASHINGTON -- A contentious program allowing Mexican trucks unrestricted access to U.S. highways near the border with Mexico has been extended for two years, despite numerous attempts by Congress to quash it.
The so-called Cross-Border Trucking Demonstration Project came under fire on Capitol Hill in January, as lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to stop the government from spending any money to establish it.
Provisions for cross-border trucking were part of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration administrator John H. Hill said participation in the program has been light. To date, only 10 U.S. companies have chosen to participate in the program, running 55 trucks south of the border. Only 27 Mexican companies have joined in, operating 107 trucks in the U.S. The program's terms permit up to 500 trucks from 100 Mexican motor carriers full access to U.S. roads.
"A number of potential companies have been unwilling to invest the time and resources necessary to participate due to uncertainties concerning the project's longevity," Hill said in a statement.
Hill said the project saves consumers' money and cuts shipping costs. Some U.S. trucking companies, meanwhile, argue that the agreement erodes their business by allowing Mexican truckers, who can operate more cheaply, to run similar routes. Some also worry the program will mean the loss of U.S. trucking jobs.
Hill said he hopes the extension will be enough to quell truckers' fears and stir more interest in the program. But some legislators say they will keep fighting the program every step of the way.
Senator Byron Dorgan, D-ND, called the extension a "reckless arrogance for the law" by the Bush administration.
"This dispute is about the administration's effort to allow long haul Mexican trucks into this country in a way that I believe compromises safety on American roads," Dorgan said in a statement. "We should not allow this program to continue."
Hill insisted that the program has followed all laws and gone above and beyond the government's requirements.
"To date, the project has shown that U.S. and Mexican carriers can engage in cross-border trucking operations in compliance with applicable laws and with no compromise to public safety or security," he said.
Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also suggested transportation department officials were trying to "flout the will of Congress," and said he intends to push a bill to shut the program down once Congress returns from recess in September.