|BROWNSVILLE, March 19 - The truck inspection policies of the Texas Department of Public Safety are having an adverse impact on economic activity in Cameron County, says Mexico’s national chamber of trucking companies.
International trucks are far more likely to be inspected in Cameron County than in Hidalgo or Webb counties, the chamber points out. As a result, more and more carriers are bypassing Cameron County, meaning more bridge revenues and economic activity for Hidalgo and Webb counties.
“We have been complaining about this issue for the past 15 years but no one seems to listen,” Juan Antonio Turrubiates Rodriguez, a Matamoros delegate to CANACAR, the national chamber of trucking companies in Mexico, told the Guardian. “The most affected carriers are the Mexican carriers. We are stigmatized as the Mexican carriers, that we do not inspect our trucks. But now, we are in an alliance, not only with the U.S. carriers, but with brokers, with our customers, with the maquiladoras. And what is it that we are all saying? That Cameron County is not growing.”
CANACAR’s claims, that Cameron County is losing out on a lot of international trade, have caught the attention of Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos. He held a lengthy and absorbing discussion on DPS’s inspection policy at the Cameron County Courthouse last Wednesday. Many international trucking carriers were present, as were DPS and U.S. Department of Transportation officials, state Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, of San Benito, and district directors from the local offices of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela.
Turrubiates cited DPS statistics in a power point presentation to make his case. He contrasted the situation in Cameron, Hidalgo and Webb counties. Between 2000 and 2013, truck crossings in Cameron County have dropped 27 percent, compared to an increase of 27 percent in Hidalgo County and an increase of 20 percent in Webb County, Turrubiates said.
In Cameron County, 11.4 trucks out of every 100 are inspected, compared to 5.7 out of 100 in Hidalgo and 1.97 out of 100 in Webb County. In Cameron County, 2.5 trucks out of every 100 are put out of service following an inspection, compared to 1.0 out of every 100 in Hidalgo County and 0.4 out of every 100 in Webb County.
Of the total inspections carried out in all three border counties between 2008 and 2013, nine percent occured in Webb County, 30 percent in Hidalgo County, and a whopping 61 percent in Cameron County. This was not because more trucks cross in Cameron County, Turrubiates said. In fact, it is the reverse. In 2013, there were 270,465 northbound crossings in Cameron County, compared to 598,600 in Hidalgo County, and 2,066,995 in Webb County. Cameron County carries 8.2 percent of the total, compared to 20.1 percent in Hidalgo County and 71.8 percent in Webb County.
Turrubiates handed out an information sheet with data that he said came from DPS. From 2010 to 2013, the average Out of Service (trucks pulled off the road) rates were: one in every 62 trucks crossing in Cameron County, one in every 184 trucks crossing in Pharr, and one in every 318 trucks crossing in Laredo.
Another table showed 2013 inspection activity at the various South Texas truck crossing bridges.
• At Tomates in Cameron County there were 177,008 northbound truck crossings and 13,873 inspections. This averages 7.84 percent.
• At Los Indios in Cameron County there were 31,140 northbound truck crossings and 4,738 inspections. This averages 15.25 percent.
• At Progreso in Hidalgo County there were 42,761 northbound truck crossings and 810 inspections. This averages 1.89 percent.
• At Pharr in Hidalgo County there were 510,706 northbound truck crossings and 23,526 inspections. This averages 4.61 percent.
• At Rio Grande City in Starr County there were 27,120 northbound truck crossings and 539 inspections. This averages 1.99 percent.
• At World Trade Laredo in Webb County there were 1,480,391 northbound truck crossings and 15,132 inspections. This averages 1.02 percent.
• At Colombia in Webb County there were 313,455 northbound truck crossings and 12,922 inspections. This averages 4.12 percent.
Interviewed after his presentation, Turrubiates said it was definitely not the case that trucks crossing in Cameron County were less road worthy.
“In the past 13 years, here in Cameron County we have decreased truck crossings by 27 percent when Webb and Hidalgo counties have been growing at 20 percent plus. We put it down to the excessive inspections of DPS. Their policies are hurting us a lot. It is time consuming to be pulled over. It costs us more money, because we get cited, and it means we cannot be competitive. Our insurance rate rises, and our budget is hit. It all means that it is a lot more expensive to do business in Cameron County, compared to the other counties,” Turrubiates said.
“Due to this, our customers have the perception that Cameron County is a problem zone. The customer says you know what, there is too much trouble there; I prefer to cross through Webb or Hidalgo. They send our trucks to those areas.
“Look at the figures. They do not make sense. From 2008 to 2013, Cameron County took 61 percent of the inspections, compared to 30 percent in Hidalgo and nine percent in Webb. Cameron County is being inspected the most but has the least amount of truck crossings.”
As at all land ports of entry, there are two inspection areas when a truck crosses an international bridge. One is operated by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the other by DPS. The problem in Cameron County, Turrubiates said, is that a third inspection area lies about ten miles north of the border.
“There is a rest area for trucks on J-69 East just south of San Benito. DPS likes to pull trucks over there and use it as an inspection station. In comparison, there is a weigh station on I-2 in Alamo, not far from the Pharr International Bridge. Most of the time, the one in Hidalgo is closed. Yet, here we are in Cameron, with a rest area being used by troopers for inspections. No wonder, U.S. carriers do not want to come here.”
Asked if anyone has done an economic impact study on the loss of international trucks in Cameron County, Turrubiates said: “Nobody has done the numbers but I am sure the economic impact is huge. It is affecting commerce, it really is.”
After listening to the case made by Turrubiates and other Mexican trucking organizations, Judge Cascos said: “It may not be (true) but the perception is Cameron County is being picked on. Hidalgo County had 333,000 more trucks but only 9,000 more inspections. It doesn't make sense to me.”
Rep. Lucio said there is a “delicate balance” between public safety and keeping commerce moving. “Are we over inspecting here or under inspecting in Hidalgo?” Lucio asked. He speculated that DPS might be implementing a “Gold Standard” service in Cameron County because there is a more manageable truck load there.
Also at the meeting was Jose C. Rodriguez, III, a regional commander for DPS. His area of operation, Region 3, covers 27 counties in South Texas. Rodriguez told the meeting that after 2002, when DPS was given more border security work, his agency concentrated resources at Los Indios International Bridge in Cameron County. “At Los Indios, we overstaffed. We missed the mark on that one. But it was in anticipation that this bridge was going to be the go-to port of entry. It never materialized. We have since downsized.”
Interviewed after the meeting, Rodriguez said: “We have to constantly look at our resources and make adjustments. That is taking place now. As you know, we are having some big moves in the Hidalgo County area and also the Eagle Ford Shale. There is momentum building. In December 2013 the Mexican government made some changes to the oil and gas industry and that is going to cause an Eagle Ford Shale type activity for all of South Texas so we are going to have to make the proper adjustments and meet with our legislators and inform them what our needs are. Our number one priority is public safety, taking care of our citizens.”
Asked what had happened at Los Indios, Rodriguez said: “In 2002 we started having enhancing manpower with federal assistance along with some state dollars. There was anticipation that Los Indios was the place and we were going to see an influx of traffic and that did not materialize. We have made some adjustments since then and we continue to monitor and continue to make those adjustments.”
Asked about the rest area in San Benito, Rodriguez said: “We use that area as opposed to just stopping on the side of the road. It is so much safer for our troopers, for our drivers and for the citizens, most importantly. On Expressway 83 in Alamo we use the weigh station but we do not use it very often because it is in a very dangerous location. We have worked with TxDOT to put up additional signs and traffic control devices but we will have a trooper working that area and people just zoom in there at 60 miles an hour thinking that is an exit. Until we get some of those issues rectified... we are working on a larger plan to have more of these designated areas for safe inspections.”
Asked what will happen next, Rodriguez said: “We have met with the Mexican trucking association on several occasions and we have discussed many of these issues that have been brought up today. I really feel, number one, there is a lack of communication. We have reached out. We have had a couple of meetings but we need to get more engaged in doing some training. I firmly believe that if they (the Mexican truckers) see what we are looking at things would improve. You saw some of the top ten violations, brakes out of adjustment 20 percent, breaking efficiency gone; overweight trucks. They are not minor violations.”