E-mail Maggie Lineback

There’s a truck convention in Laredo, Texas — or at least, that’s what it looks like. Laredo is a Texas border town which has the honor of being one of the busiest in the U.S. for truck crossings. Sit at the World Trade Bridge on the Laredo border and you’ll see why. The trucks start crossing even before the sun is up. By nine, they’re coming across in earnest, with a steady stream pouring in and out of the customs facility. An estimated six to seven thousand trucks cross here each day.

Right now, Mexican trucks can only travel in a commercial zone that reaches about 20 to 25 miles from the border. After that, U.S. trucks and drivers must take the cargo. In Laredo, within a five mile radius of the World Trade Bridge, there is warehouse after warehouse, almost as far as the eye can see. Once a Mexican truck clears the border, it heads to a warehouse. Its goods are unloaded and stored or sent out in different directions. In other cases, U.S. trucking companies provide trailers directly to Mexican truck companies, so that when Mexican drivers pull into a facility, they need only change out the truck’s cab and the goods are back on the road again.

The system’s changing. There’s a pilot program set to start that will allow a limited number of Mexican trucks anywhere in the U.S. About 44 are expected to participate in the first 30 days of the program. A total of 100 carriers could take part during the year the pilot program is in existence.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is against the program. The group has had protesters out at the World Trade Bridge and other crossings. The union says Mexican trucks just aren’t safe. The head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Adminstration, John Hill, disagrees. He says Mexican trucks in the pilot program will be checked before they ever get to the U.S.

For now, no trucks in the program have passed beyond the commercial zones. The DOT’s inspector general has to make an assessment of the program and the department must respond. Mexico must also give the green light to U.S. trucks to travel there. Once all that happens, the first trucks could roll within 24 to 48 hours.

Maggie Lineback is a Dallas bureau producer.