Now, it looks as if the zone will be abolished after all after strict standards for Mexican trucks were written into the amendment as a paean to legislators who were concerned about unsafe Mexican trucks traveling the highways.
By as early as the summer of 2002, Mexican big rigs, laden with goods, could bypass Calexico on their way to Los Angeles or San Diego.
The date when the commercial zone would be erased is uncertain as the action would be contingent upon the construction of inspection stations along the border, according to a White House spokesman.
The new stations would be modeled after the inspection station at the Calexico East Port of Entry, according to the Department of Transportation.
A good percentage of the trucks entering the United States from the east port then could head straight north to Interstate 8 on arteries such as Bowker or Anderholt roads. The resulting change in traffic patterns would alleviate some of the heavy truck traffic on thoroughfares such as Highway 98 and Cole Road.
This would be welcome news for Calexico officials, who have publicly complained about the damage big rigs have inflicted on city streets and the city's quality of life.
Councilman Gilbert Grijalva said, "That's why the council has designated a route that allows truck traffic to move in and out quickly without creating a hazardous situation for the local community."
Earlier this year the council approved a plan to redirect Highway 98 around the city limits to minimize the impact of truck traffic on city streets.
The California Department of Transportation is in the process of weighing the merits of the city's approved route as it deliberates the future path of Highway 98.
On Friday, Caltrans spokesman Mark Phelan said the department has accounted for the eventuality of an open border in projected traffic pattern studies.
"Some trucks will still go to brokering houses in Calexico, but some will bypass the city and head directly to Los Angeles or San Diego," he said.
He doesn't expect the elimination of the commercial zone to greatly affect the city's truck traffic patterns until Interstate 7 is completed in 2005.
When that freeway is finished, truckers will be able to rumble from the Calexico East Port of Entry directly to Interstate 8.
Until then the trucks will have to use the same roads that Mexicali residents use to get to Calexico or Yuma.
Alex Romero, a Calexico customhouse broker, said U.S. freight companies will be most affected by the potential elimination of the zone since Mexican manufacturers will not have to pay the companies to ferry their goods to big markets along the coast.
As it stands, Mexican-made goods are transported across the border by a Mexican company, then transferred to a U.S. carrier within the commercial zone.
In Calexico, the zone is four miles from the border. In other, more populous areas of the country, the zone is 20 miles or more from the border.
After the goods are transferred, a U.S. carrier or "line-drive hauler" transports the items out of the commercial zone and the Mexican rig heads back across the border to pick up more goods.
Usually the Mexican rigs used for this kind of traffic are not maintained as well as the larger, more expensive rigs used for longer trips.
County officials have said Calexico's air quality could improve if the shuttling system is curtailed.
Meanwhile, Santos Rico, the third-generation owner of Rico Auto Transportes, said his "line-drive hauling" business could be affected "a little" if Mexican companies decide to pay Mexican haulers to ship their goods directly to U.S. markets.
Rico is counting on his personal attention and tradition of quality service to keep his 57 trucks moving.
"I have never lost a customer to no one because I do a good service. I'm not worried about it at all," he said.
He doesn't think Mexican companies will be able to severely undercut U.S. companies' trucking rates because they will have to deal with the same U.S. costs for insurance and permits.
>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org