(Feb. 17) WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the 2004 fiscal year, the Department of Transportation has proposed a 22% budget increase over last year for The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

That increase, which would bring the total budget to $447 million, up $80 million from the previous year, includes $23 million for inspection programs for Mexican trucks entering the U.S.

Though the budget did not list exactly how the inspection money would be spent, DOT secretary Norman Mineta said in a release that the entire budget was aimed at increasing safety and streamlining the U.S. transportation system.

“During the past year, we at the DOT have been hard at work creating a safer, simpler and smarter national transportation system,” he said. “This budget request and these guiding principles provide the foundation for a new reauthorization cycle in both surface and aviation programs that will guide the course for these important programs for the next several years.”

Meanwhile, the question as to whether those additional inspections will be needed is still up in the air. A U.S. District Court of Appeals has temporarily blocked the entry of Mexican trucks to the U.S. pending a report from the DOT detailing the environmental impact the trucks will have on the U.S.

In other areas of transportation, the budget also includes $900 million for Amtrak. Mineta said this level is lower than previous years and is designed to encourage Amtrak to adopt reforms that will strengthen its business operations and financial standing.

In previous years, the transportation budget has included full funding for Amtrak. In the budget for fiscal year 2002, for example, Amtrak received $1.2 billion.

Amtrak recently said it would need $10 billion during the next five years to remain in operation. Congress recently approved $1.05 billion for the struggling rail company to keep the trains running at least through September.

Amtrak has said the money will keep the railroad going, even though it is short of the $2 billion the company said it would need earlier this year.

The Bush administration set new conditions along with this funding, meaning that from now on Amtrak will have to go through the Department of Transportation for future grant requests.