Federal Update
First things first
Congress mandates a pilot program before permanent access given to long-haul trucks from Mexico

By Jami Jones
senior editor


Opening up the U.S.-Mexico border permanently to long-haul trucks from Mexico is going to take more than a handshake and the wave of a wand. Congress has made sure of that.

Members of the U.S. Congress passed laws with strict limitations on cross-border programs.      

Section 350 passed as part of the 2002 transportation appropriations legislation, and Section 6901 passed as part of the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act 2007. Paired together, these two pieces of now federal law lay out a system of checks and balances designed to govern long-haul cross-border trucking with Mexico.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association worked closely with lawmakers in drafting Section 6901, which ensures legitimate oversight of any program.

A key restriction implemented by Congress to opening the border to long-haul operations from Mexico is that a pilot program must be completed before the border is opened permanently.

That is a point that the Department of Justice acknowledged on behalf of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in a January 2009 court filing.

“Even if DOT were to undertake a new pilot program on cross-border trucking … any new pilot program would be different from the now-terminated demonstration project and would present different issues regarding consistency with statutory and regulatory requirements,” the DOJ wrote in its brief to the 9th Circuit for the U.S. Court of Appeals on behalf of FMCSA.

“Section 6901 … imposes a continuing restriction on DOT, permitting the agency to grant authority for cross-border long-haul operations only after completion of a successful pilot program and satisfaction of other procedural and substantive requirements,” the DOJ’s court brief stated.

Once any pilot program is established, it and FMCSA will be subjected to a lengthy list of requirements that must be completed before the first truck rolls, according to Sections 350 and 6901.

For example, FMCSA would face a lot more paperwork. Section 6901 outlines notices FMCSA must publish to the Federal Register – pushing any planning out from behind closed doors.

That section also mandates a list of regs that the secretary of transportation must certify, attesting that those laws and regs comply on the grounds that Mexican law corresponds with the U.S. law. That notice will also have to include an analysis of how the laws and regulations differ.

The public would also get a look at data and information on the pre-authorization safety audits conducted on Mexico-based motor carriers granted authority to operate in the U.S. There will also be information published outlining steps taken to protect health and safety of the public.

Section 6901 also beefed up the requirements laid out in the 2002 legislation, Section 350. The Office of Inspector General is now required to sign off on several more provisions of Section 350.

Section 350 outlined 22 conditions that the DOT had to meet before allowing Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate in the U.S. It required independent verification by the OIG of only eight of those.     

Before Section 6901 was signed into law, the governing administration only had to certify that there was compliance. There wasn’t any sort of requirement for that certification to be verified by the OIG – leaving the certification to mean little more than a pinky promise.

Oversight of the program is assigned to the OIG by Section 6901 as well.

The OIG must monitor the program and submit an interim report six months after the program begins to Congress and the secretary of transportation. A final report will also be required 60 days after the program is completed. LL