The current border crossing processes create imbalances in border traffic which lead to congestion and restrict the movement of goods and people across the border. Based on this report’s findings about the general border crossing process framework, there are three keys to improving the northbound border crossing process. The first is to identify port-specific procedural and infrastructural bottlenecks. The second is to automate information about the cargo, commercial carrier, commercial vehicle, and the driver in the pre-crossing stages, and thus be able to clear the commercial vehicle for release before it arrives at the border. And the third key is to identify infrastructure needs of existing border stations, including staffing resources.
The following recommendations would provide the Texas Legislature the basis for a model to reduce congestion and enhance the effective movement of commercial vehicles at certain border crossings and on Texas highways. The recommendations focus on improving current border crossing processes and setting the stage for long-term improvements in the inspection processes and to border crossing infrastructure.
A. Improve the Pre-Border Crossing Process.
The Legislature should appoint a trade community advisory committee for each area; El Paso, Laredo, McAllen-Hidalgo, and Brownsville to identify port-specific procedural and infrastructure bottlenecks that impede trade, and report their findings to the Texas Legislature in 2003.
The trade community committee would include representatives from U.S. and Mexican federal agencies, state agencies, customs brokers, freight forwarders, motor carriers, drayage operators, and maquiladora operators.
Each border crossing is a unique entity with site-specific circumstances that affect the border crossing process. For example, the heavy concentration of maquiladoras in Juárez, Chihuahua generates hundreds of truck crossings over El Paso’s international bridges. Laredo’s short-haul drayage process generates thousands of border crossings annually as shipments crossing at the Laredo port of entry are off-loaded in the border zones, before proceeding to their final destination.
Each advisory committee should study procedures and practices at its port of entry to determine which could be modified to expedite the flow of trade from Mexico through the border crossings.
The purpose of the studies is to develop solutions from the actual situations at each port of entry. The studies should include but not be limited to:
- How and why traffic congestion is created in Mexico
- Customs broker practices, including the inefficiencies of the batch release practice
- The drayage process
- Standardization of the hours of operation for banks, customs brokers, U.S. Customs, and maquiladoras
- Feasibility of conducting commercial vehicle and driver safety inspections in Mexico by DPS officers or inspectors certified through DPS’ certification program;
- U.S. Customs practices, specifically to determine what processes need to be changed to permit a pre-cleared Mexican commercial vehicle to proceed through the primary inspection point without stopping
- Interagency agreements to have state agencies do each others’ motor carrier and safety permits.
A committee review of procedures and practices will help identify port-specific solutions. While the focus of the studies should be on the current situation, the studies should also develop solutions in anticipation of the lifting the geographic access limits on Mexican trucking.
B. Increase the use of automated technology during the primary and secondary processes.
The advisory committees should study the primary, secondary inspection processes and DPS motor carrier safety and driver inspection requirements to determine which could be automated to expedite the flow of trade from Mexico through the border crossings.
The border crossing process involves different agencies. The findings section of this report identified several areas in the pre-border crossing and primary inspection functions that could lend themselves to automation. Coordinating existing programs such as Automated Broker Interface for pre-file and line-release, and motor carrier, vehicle and driver information with other databases could expedite the border crossing process. The purpose of the proposed analysis is to determine the databases that are available and which technology applications would enhance the processes.
C. Identify and meet infrastructure needs at the border crossings.
Each advisory committee should identify the infrastructure and manpower resources necessary to expedite the flow of trade from Mexico through the its border crossings.
After identifying procedural bottlenecks and determining which processes and functions can be automated, the committee must identify the federal and state infrastructure and manpower resources necessary to expedite the border crossing process.
Two examples of manpower and infrastructure resource needs have already been identified. Representatives from Laredo, El Paso, McAllen-Hidalgo and Brownsville have met with Texas’ congressional representatives to present their case for additional U.S. Customs inspectors at the international bridges. The border cities’ representatives feel that the U.S. Customs Service manpower resources are inadequate to process the volume of traffic efficiently.
In addition, several of the urban international bridges are land-constrained, and border station facilities may need to be expanded to accommodate increased non-commercial and commercial traffic. If some of the border crossing processes were automated and commercial vehicles could proceed from Mexico into the Texas border zone without stopping for a primary or a secondary inspection, the commercial vehicle would still have to wait in line to cross because the commercial vehicles currently must exit through the U.S. Customs Services lot. The border stations must have an exit lane for the pre-cleared vehicle to use without having to go through the secondary inspection area of the station.
Texas’ legislative leadership could increase its role in presenting the state’s case to the U.S. Congress for additional resources for ports of entry at the Texas-Mexico border. These resources should include increased U.S. Customs manpower and increased funding for borders and corridors projects.
State law should be amended to direct the Texas Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of retro-fitting existing international bridges.
The Texas Department of Transporta-tion’s responsibilities include planning and designing border transportation projects and approving international bridge construction projects before bridge sponsors request a Presidential Permit. In addition, the department, through the Texas Turnpike Division, has been authorized to work with agencies, or political subdivisions, in Mexico on international construction toll road construction projects.
D. Deploy Intelligent Transportation Systems/Commercial Vehicle Operations (ITS/CVO) technology at certain border ports of entry and the weigh stations located in the interior of Texas.
The Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University and the Center for Transportation Research at the University if Texas at Austin have developed prototype plans for a commercial border inspection facility for federal and state inspections. The Texas Department of Transportation has developed a proposal for border safety inspections facilities for commercial vehicle inspections only. Both of these proposals rely, in part, on intelligent transportation technologies to expedite the border crossing processes.
However, at this time there is no state initiative for the use of ITS/CVO technology at the border ports of entry, or in weigh stations in the interior of Texas.
The Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Department of Public Safety should conduct cost-benefit analyses to determine the cost of deploying ITS technology in the state’s border and interior areas.
The costs should include the infrastructure required to facilitate deployment of ITS/CVO and operating and maintenance costs. For example, the cost of deploying automated roadside vehicle screening and clearance systems at weigh stations and international border crossings.
The Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Department of Public Safety should survey customs brokers, freight forwarders, U.S. and Mexican motor carriers to get input regarding implementation of ITS/CVO technology.
In order to participate in ITS/CVO, commercial carriers may need to buy special equipment. Along the Texas-Mexico border many of the motor carriers are short-haul small business operators that may not be able to afford to buy special equipment to participate in ITS/CVO. Since these short-haul truckers account for the majority of truck crossings at some international bridges, if they cannot participate in ITS/CVO, then the benefits of automating roadside vehicle screening and clearance systems at weigh stations and international border crossings will not be realized.
The Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Department of Public Safety should begin coordinating with U.S., Texas, Canadian and Mexican commercial motor carriers to develop interoperability standards for the use of ITS/CVO technology.
Standardization of electronic equipment for roadside screening and clearance systems, data systems, and other aspects of ITS/CVO should be resolved before the technology is deployed. The cost of deploying ITS/CVO will increase if the equipment (transponders, computer hardware and software) must change to accommodate different standards.