California toll road hearing likely to draw big crowd

| 6/27/2008

A proposed 16-mile toll road that would bisect coastal parkland in California continues to make waves, despite being rejected earlier this year by the California Coastal Commission.

Transportation Corridor Agencies is a private company proposing to build the extension of state Route 241 as a toll road to relieve congestion on Interstate 5 in Orange County. It has petitioned the U.S. Commerce Department to overturn the Coastal Commission’s rejection.

In response, the Commerce Department has scheduled a public hearing on the project. The hearing is set for July 24 and/or July 25 at the Donald Bren Center at the University of California-Irvine. Exact times had not been set as of Thursday, June 26.

If the attendance of 3,500 people at the Coastal Commission hearing in February is any indication, the next hearing is certain to draw a large crowd.

A spokeswoman for Transportation Corridor Agencies said the company welcomes the public hearing despite such groups as the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation and California Coastal Protection Network mobilizing to oppose the roadway.

“It’s another chance to discuss the facts about the road,” spokeswoman Jennifer Seaton told Land Line Magazine. “We’re also glad the hearing will be in Orange County because that’s where most of the concerns are originating.”

Environmentalists say the road will harm the San Onofre State Beach and endanger wildlife in a region known for scenery and surf. Other opponents do not want to pay tolls to avoid the congested I-5.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supports the toll road through the state park beach, saying that sensitive planning and permitting ensure the roadway will not harm its surroundings.

Route 241 has been on California’s radar as far back as 1981, but there has been a lack of funding for state agencies to build it.

Transportation Corridor Agencies proposed building the extension to Route 241, also known as Foothill-South, in exchange for 30 years of toll revenue.

Click here for more information about the proposal.

– By David Tanner, staff writer