by Kelly Simmons, managing editor and senior writer
A joint U.S.-Mexico pilot program to speed the time it takes for commercial trucks to cross the border was announced by Federico Pena, the U.S. Secretary for Transportation at a meeting in San Antonio, Texas. The program is being tested at crossings in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez and in Laredo/Nuevo Laredo and if successful could be extended to crossings in southern California and Nogales, Arizona, and eventually to all border crossings, according to a report from Notimex.
The pilot program will enable customs agents to obtain information on commercial vehicles electronically, such as the name of the driver, the origin of the shipment, destination and type of cargo. It is projected that the program will begin with companies that handle a high volume of shipments. Companies will provide the necessary information about their shipments and the information will be stored in computer files and accessed by Customs. It is hoped that access to electronic information about cargoes and shipments will speed the time it takes to process the trucks through the border crossings.
In other news, the lack of an immediate access to Interstate 10 from El Paso’s Bridge of the Americas for commercial trucks has been decried as an example of poor planning and lack of preparation for the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to reports in the El Paso Times. Currently there is no direct access to Interstate 10 from the Bridge and semi trailers are forced to use city streets that include 4 narrow turns designed for regular city traffic. At this point the scope of the problem has been limited because there are weight restrictions on the bridge that limit its use to empty trailers.
But construction of two northbound commercial lanes is expected to be finished in two years and the weight restrictions will be lifted. At that time, officials expect the numbers of commercial carriers using the crossing to jump from the current 900 per day to an estimated 1,400 per day, primarily because the bridge is a free crossing. The Texas Department of Transportation has no plans for providing freeway access for those trucks, but they have been making plans to alleviate some of the access problems, specifically a $1 million turnaround that will cut one of the turns trucks are forced to make out of their route.
El Paso’s mayor, Larry Francis, deflected criticism regarding the bridge access by stating that the City had placed a priority on other areas of the system. He also pointed out that under the current highway funding structure, the City was required to pay 20 percent of the cost of transportation projects, further burdening taxpayers.
Sources: El Norte, Notimex, El Paso Times