PHOENIX — Just a year after beginning a study to determine how to improve efficiency and consistency at Arizona’s three primary international ports of entry, Arizona Department of Transportation officials already are seeing improvements that make the state a more attractive route for commercial carriers.
“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.”
These successes stem from ADOT’s use of a statewide systems approach championed by Gov. Doug Ducey for improving state government operations, Halikowski said.
The Arizona Management System empowers employees at state agencies to come up with innovative ways to better serve customers, including taxpayers, visitors to Motor Vehicle Division offices and trucking companies using Arizona’s ports of entry.
Commercial trucks entering the United States at Nogales, Douglas and San Luis are vital to Arizona’s economy, Halikowski said. In 2015, about $30 billion in combined imports and exports crossed the international border at those three spots.
Yet Arizona officials were seeing a troubling trend: Some commercial trucking companies were using ports at Calexico, California, and Laredo, Texas, rather than coming through Arizona, even if Arizona was a more direct option. Companies said that higher costs associated with crossing the border in Arizona — including time lost during inspections, fines for violations and higher insurance rates — helped steer them elsewhere.
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 inspectors have 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.
“Our review helped us identify things we could do better, such as making our inspection decisions consistent at every location,” said Tim Lane, director of ADOT’s Enforcement and Compliance Division, which provides safety inspections. “We’ve already brought 51 inspectors through new training to make that happen.”
Keys to success include education, cross-border partnerships and using advanced technologies, Lane said.
“We also have begun doing a better job of educating Mexican trucking companies and drivers about what we expect during our safety inspections,” he added. “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.
The next step is a training process for drivers called International Border Inspection Qualification. In classes set to begin this month San Luis Río Colorado and later in Hermosillo, capital city of Sonora, drivers can earn a certificate that will demonstrate their understanding of the inspection process. Those drivers may face shorter inspections before getting back on the road.
Another key step: coordinating inspections with 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 improvements include having inspectors record their work on tablets during inspections rather than entering the results afterward in a separate building, and focusing on trucks deemed to have a higher risk of violations, including those without decals from previous inspections and those from companies with histories of safety violations.
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.
“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.”