Officials at the Arizona Department of Transportation said they had noticed "a troubling trend" last year, in that some cargo trucking companies were entering the United States from Mexico through other states even when Arizona was a more direct option.
In response, ADOT set about to identify problems for truckers moving through the state and find ways to reduce delays at international ports of entry from both the number and lengths of cargo carrier inspections.
"While safety remains our No. 1 goal, we want to be as efficient as possible at helping commerce move across the border and into Arizona's economy,"
ADOT Director John Halikowski said. "By working closely with international trucking interests, we are supporting commercial traffic and boosting the economy not just in Arizona but along the Interstate 10 corridor and across the nation."
ADOT said it found that trucking firms were routing their units through the border at Calexico, Calif., and Laredo, Texas, with companies saying they faced "higher costs associated with crossing the border in Arizona – including time lost during inspections, fines for violations and higher insurance rates."
So, working with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, inspectors from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and a consulting group that helps organizations operate more efficiently, ADOT said its inspectors "identified several critical changes that improve operations at Arizona's ports, beginning with the port of entry at San Luis. The improved processes are now being rolled out at ports in Nogales and Douglas."
And it is paying off, ADOT said. "In the first few months, inspections at San Luis are down by more than 10 percent, inspection times are down 23 percent and 80 percent of commercial trucking companies rated the new process as excellent or very good. By focusing on higher-risk trucks, inspectors found 33 percent more safety violations, even as the number and length of inspections went down.
"As a result, business is returning to Arizona. Commercial traffic at the San Luis port is up 7 percent in just two months. Seven companies that left Arizona for Calexico have returned, and 15 new companies are coming through Arizona, representing an increase of 102 trucks in all."
Tim Lane, director of ADOT's Enforcement and Compliance Division, which provides safety inspections, said that "our review helped us identify things we could do better, such as making our inspection decisions consistent at every location. We've already brought 51 inspectors through new training to make that happen."
In addition, "we also have begun doing a better job of educating Mexican trucking companies and drivers about what we expect during our safety inspections," Lane said. "Our Border Liaison Unit already has held seven meetings – including one in Mexico, with two more planned – that explained our process to 158 people involved in international trucking."
ADOT said there is also a formal training process for Mexican drivers called the International Border Inspection Qualification, under which they can attend classes and earn certificates demonstrating their understanding of the inspection process. "Those drivers may face shorter inspections before getting back on the road," the agency said.
The state is also coordinating its vehicle inspections with those by other agencies. "U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspects the cargo in commercial vehicles entering the country, while the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and ADOT check trucks for safety issues. By coordinating their inspections, federal and state officials are reducing inspection times and company costs while encouraging more trucking companies to cross the border in Arizona."
Other changes included focusing inspections on trucks that officials deemed to have a higher risk of violations, including those without decals from previous inspections and those from companies with histories of safety violations. During the actual work, inspectors began recording their results on electronic tablets rather than waiting as in the past to go to a separate building and log in the results.
The agency is not finished with its efforts to move commerce along more efficiently. "We will continue looking at ways to improve the inspection process at all three ports," Lane said. "But we're starting to see real change."
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