Feds Give $31.2 Million for Border Truck Safety

Texas and New Mexico will receive $31.2 million for nine new truck safety inspection stations as border states brace for a surge in traffic from Mexican trucks, a federal official said.

Martin Whitmer, U.S. Department of Transportation deputy chief of staff, said Wednesday that Texas will receive $28.8 million for stations in Laredo, El Paso, Los Indios, Eagle Pass, Pharr and Brownsville. Two stations each will be built in El Paso and Laredo.

New Mexico gets $2.4 million to build a commercial vehicle enforcement station in Santa Teresa and make improvements on the station in Columbus.

``Our truck inspection stations here at the border are so important to our future growth,'' said Whitmer, who had to yell to be heard over the roar of tractor-trailer rigs streaming through an El Paso inspection station. ``Yet we have to be mindful of safety and security concerns and the need to hold motor carriers and drivers ... from Mexico to our high standards.''

The new stations will focus on truck safety. Before going to truck inspection stations, vehicles go through a U.S. Customs inspection where agents look for national security threats and smuggling.

Whitmer said the stations are designed to deal with an expected 50 percent increase in freight volumes created by growing trade with Mexico over the next 20 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled against delays to a North American Free Trade Agreement provision that allows Mexican and U.S. trucks to travel freely on one another's highways. The provision was supposed to take effect in 2000 but was rolled back repeatedly as critics questioned whether Mexico's trucks met U.S. standards. Before the ruling, Mexican trucks were allowed only within an approximately 20-mile zone north of the border.

``These new facilities are an important part of modernizing our border, creating a more efficient flow of traffic and trade and ensuring the safety of our roads,'' said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Whitmer said similar grants will be announced for California and Arizona this week.

Amadeo Saenz, Texas Department of Transportation assistant executive director, said the state's eight new stations are expected to cost about $20 million each. Saenz said the department has received about $129 million in state and federal money, including the grant announced Wednesday.

``We're still a little bit short,'' Saenz said. ``We will continue to apply for more grants.''

The station at the Bridge of the Americas in El Paso is expected to be done in about a year, Saenz said. He said it probably will be the first built.

Capt. Rick Cox, with the New Mexico Department of Public Safety's Motor Transportation Division, said the Santa Teresa station is expected to cost about $6 million.

A new road is being built from factories on the Mexican side of the border to the Santa Teresa crossing and the port also is expected to become the hazardous materials crossing for the El Paso area, Cox said.

In Texas, the stations are designed to allow an efficient flow of traffic by diverting trucks that need closer inspections. Some of the stations are designed to be expandable.