In what was thought to be a dead issue, the 241 Toll Road extension, like the mythical phoenix, is attempting to rise from the ashes.
When the California Coastal Commission voted the proposal down 8-2 because it is inconsistent with the Coastal Act, and when this decision was upheld by the U.S. Department of Commerce, it looked like the “fat lady” had sung.
The toll road lobby, however, with seemingly unlimited resources, launched another effort to sway public opinion with their outreach (code for propaganda) program.
In the Transportation Corridor Agency’s (TCA) eyes this new 241 Toll Road extension is justified because when the U.S. Department of Commerce denied the TCA appeal, it indicated an alternative route could be pursued.
The idea is to re-align the proposed Foothill South extension to an area that takes up more land in Camp Pendleton and less in San Clemente. The Marines are saying “no” to this new plan, but that does not deter TCA’s CEO, Tom Margro, who recently reassured local business leaders that plans to extend the 241 Toll Road from Oso Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita to San Clemente "are not dead."
“I think they want to keep pedaling the bike to keep their jobs, but I don't know where they're pedaling it to," she said.
TCA’s web site describes the current propaganda campaign as follows:
“An exhaustive stakeholder outreach program began in January 2009 and is ongoing. Meetings have been held with more than 125 organizations and individuals, including opponent groups, such as the Save San Onofre Coalition. Stakeholders agree that there is a growing traffic problem between San Diego and Orange Counties that needs to be addressed or it could grow to gridlock properties and damage the economies of the area.”
Their alarmist rhetoric calls the current situation a “Ticking Time Bomb.” Their cause has been boosted by the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan and citizens concerns regarding the safety of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and the need for another way out of San Clemente in case of a disaster.
Is traffic in South Orange County a problem? Absolutely.
Is it a “ticking time bomb?” No.
The TCA presumes the 241 extension is the only solution to the traffic problems in South Orange County, as well as the only way a second escape route can be established in case of an emergency. The agency has used its considerable influence to stop other possible solutions to both the traffic problem and an escape route.
One way to improve the 1-5 is to get rid of the current bottleneck caused by the narrowing of lanes in San Clemente. This solution has been hampered by the current non-competition agreement between TCA and Cal Trans.
It requires Cal Trans to compensate TCA for lost revenue resulting from highway improvements that might compete with the Toll Roads causing the TCA to lose revenue. This onerous clause does not expire until 2020 making unplanned improvements to the I-5 almost impossible to achieve.
A major objection to the Toll Road Extension is that it is based on the premise that traffic will increase by 60 percent.
Let’s see, with $5- or $6-a-gallon gas, 28 percent of homeowners under water (owing more than the house is worth), and consumers spending less to pay off debt, it does not look like traffic will be increasing by 60 percent any time soon.
How obsolete is that study?
One solution to find a third way out of San Clemente, a solution that the TCA dreads, is the. For 26 years, residents of Forster Ranch and Rancho San Clemente have waited patiently for the La Pata Extension. It looks as if this long delayed third way out of San Clemente is finally on track for some movement forward.
To move on the $1.5 billion Toll Road Extension before the La Pata Extension is completed just makes no sense. Once La Pata is extended to the Ortega Hwy and the San Antonio Parkway, it should relieve some of the traffic congestion from the I-5, and more importantly, provide a new route out of San Clemente.
If the TCA insists on their propaganda campaign, will again form coalitions to fight the project. Other issues will no doubt surface regarding the environment, San Mateo Creek, Native American sites, Trestles, and the state park as the argument heats up over the new proposed Toll Road alignment. The Marines will find strong allies as they try to stop this new incantation of the Toll Road Extension.
The Toll Road is not dead. It is still in a coma on life support.
Editors Note: Because of an administrative error, a number of edits have been made to this article since it was first published. The central points remain the same.