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State Functions at the Texas-Mexico Border
and
Cross-Border Transportation

January 2001

Contents
  1. Economic Factors Affecting Cross-border Transportation
  2. Responsibilities of Governmental Agencies and Private Entities at the Texas-Mexico Border Crossings
  3. An Overview of the Commercial Cargo, Drug Interdiction and Vehicle Safety Inspection Functions
  4. The Border Crossing Process
  5. Findings
  6. Recommendations
Endnotes

Introduction

The 1999 Legislature passed Senate Bill 1375 requiring the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts to conduct a study of the movement of commercial vehicles across the Texas-Mexico border. The focus of this report is to determine if separating regulation of commerce and law enforcement functions at the Texas ports of entry would enhance the movement of commercial traffic.

Furthermore, the bill directed the Texas Comptroller to develop recommendations to accomplish this separation and to serve as a model for the continuing independent operation of those functions.[1] While the state’s crime detection and prevention functions do not involve commercial traffic crossing the Texas-Mexico border, the intent of the S.B. 1375 was to reduce commercial vehicle delays at the international border, reduce congestion, and facilitate trade.

The Effect of NAFTA

Economic integration due to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—and the attendant lowering of tariffs and other barriers to trade—has resulted in increased trade with Mexico and increased truck traffic at the U.S. and Texas land ports of entry. As overland trade between the two countries increased, traffic congestion at the border ports of entry also increased. Many state and local officials blame the traffic congestion on federal law, federal and state law enforcement and regulatory processes, and also inadequate transportation infrastructure at the ports of entry.

Border Crossing Processes

Several U.S. and Mexican federal, state, and local governmental and non-governmental agencies have direct and indirect roles in the Texas-Mexico border crossing process. These agencies are at the ports of entry because they regulate the process, enforce laws and regulations, or facilitate the safe movement of cargo and people into the United States.

The border crossing process involves a complex set of procedures implementing the specific legislative and regulatory mandates on commodity trade, immigration, drug interdiction, transportation safety, and environmental regulation. International cargo, vehicles, and drivers are inspected by federal and state agency personnel to ensure that all goods and services entering and exiting the United States do so in accordance with federal and state laws and regulations.

State Functions at the Border Report

This report provides an overview of the ways in which federal, state, and local governmental agencies—and private entities—interact when they enforce laws and regulations or facilitate the safe movement of cargo and people to and from the United States and Mexico.

This report is composed of 6 sections:

Section I provides a review of the economic factors affecting cross-border transportation and a description of the border’s ports of entry, operating hours of the main bridge systems, and the Presidential Permit process;

Section II presents an overview of the responsibilities of the federal and state agencies and private entities involved, directly and indirectly, in the border crossing process at Texas’ international bridges, and concludes with an overview of the international truck shipment process;

Section III presents an overview of the commercial cargo processing, drug interdiction, and commercial vehicle and driver safety functions performed by federal and state agencies at the ports of entry;

Section IV presents a step-by-step review of the northbound and southbound border crossing processes, beginning with a review of pre-crossing activities and concluding with the border crossing itself;

Section V contains major findings based on the complex set of procedures implementing the specific legislative and regulatory mandates guiding the agencies involved in the border crossing process. While this section identifies a series of eight stops in the crossing process that often result in congestion, the lines of commercial trucks to cross the bridges are created in Mexico. Finally, state government functions regulating commerce or involved in law enforcement activities at the border do not impede traffic at the border crossings.

Section VI presents recommendations to improve the pre-border crossing process, to identify port-specific bottlenecks, to increase the use of automated technology during the pre-border crossing, primary and secondary phases, and to identify current and future infrastructure needs at the ports. It also recommends that the State of Texas determine the benefits of deploying ITS/CVO (Intelligent Transportation Systems/Commercial Vehicle Operations) technology at certain border ports of entry and at the weigh stations located in the interior of Texas.