TCA file protest with Feds against state enviro agency blocking Foothill TR
By Peter Samuel
The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) have filed an appeal with the US Secretary of Commerce asking the US Government to overrule an attempt by the extreme environmentalist California Coastal Commission (CCC) to block completion of their CA241 Foothill Toll Road in San Clemente, between Los Angeles and San Diego. The CCC comprises mostly leftists opposed to road construction who think government should "get people out of cars". They voted Feb 6 against the tollroad 8 to 2.
It was clear from comments made from the podium that the commission vote was based on environmentalist opposition to construction of new roads, not on coastal issues.
Under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, the US Secretary of Commerce can override the state commission if the Secretary finds that the project is consistent with the purposes of the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, or is necessary in the interest of national security. Federal regulations establish a 235 day deadline for the US to respond. That puts the decision inside the Bush administration's term of office.
All federal agencies involved under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process including USEPA, Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and FHWA, agreed that the proposed road is necessary and acceptable. The US Navy also signed off on the plan. The state EPA and almost every local government in the area plus the state Governor support construction also.
The state commission claims jurisdiction over a stretch of coast that includes the 8-lane I-5 freeway and the San Onofre nuclear generating station. Only the last half mile of tollroad and its connections to I-5 come within the CCC zone - see 'X' on map nearby.
The southern several miles of tollroad there would be built on US Government land (US Marine Corps Camp Pendleton) which is on short-term lease to the California state park service for camp grounds and a hiking trail. The slither of land on the western edge of Camp Pendleton has been named San Onofre State Beach Park, although the beach part of this park is not involved in the project.
The tollroad was planned and shown on maps when the state park service signed the lease for the park. The lease expires in 2021.
Feds likely to support the road
The federal government is considered very likely to uphold the TCA appeal given the support of federal agencies for the tollroad project, its location on federal land, and national security issues. National security has to be a factor when the tollroad provides an alternative route to I-5 on the vital coastal link between San Diego and Los Angeles.
With a nuclear power plant and a US military base nearby national security is well served by redundant access routes. During brush fires I-5 can be closed, making the tollroad an alternative route.
The TCA appeal says: "The limited negative environmental effects of the project are more than offset by environmental benefits and, in any case, the project's furtherance of the national interest strongly outweighs any adverse effect."
Studies showed that the project is needed to provide mobility and prevent debilitating traffic congestion if the economy, environment and quality of life of the region is to be maintained, the TCA say.
Traffic forecasts for the year 2025 estimate a 60% increase in traffic at the Orange County/San Diego County line. This could extend a current commute of 25 minutes into over 60 minutes.
Scientific studies also showed, the TCA appeal says, that the roadway will have negligible impact on beach park and no impact on the surf at Trestles Beach - the far-fetched claim of surfer activists.
Beach and park users now have I-5 freeway, nuke plant & Amtrak rail line alongside
People presently enjoy the beach and camping in the area with the interstate I-5 and 160k vehicles perday plus an Amtrak train line, all closer than the proposed tollroad. The nuclear power plant is located a short distance away and right on the beach, popular because the sea water is warmed by the huge heat exchangers used to cool the reactor.
The 241 Toll Road extension has been the subject of regional planning efforts for decades. Planners have said it is a critical component of the regional transportation plan.
The $900m 6-lane Foothill tollroad presently ends in a stub in Rancho Santa Margarita and the extension would take it 26km (16 miles) south to I-5 near San Clemente. The new section of road is forecast to attract nearly 60k vehicles per day.
As well as providing an alternative for a heavily used stretch of I-5 it would provide more direct routing for many trips to the northeast of the county and take traffic off local streets.