Orange County's largest tollway operation announced Tuesday that it has canceled environmental studies for a controversial extension project that was widely criticized and ultimately rejected by the California Coastal Commission in 2008.
The Transportation Corridor Agencies rescinded two notices to proceed with federal environmental impact statements for the Foothill South extension, which would have connected the 241 tollway with the 5 Freeway south of San Clemente.
The TCA planned to build the Foothill South through the eastern portion of popular San Onofre State Beach -- and Trestles, the surfing mecca. The proposal generated loud opposition from environmentalists, park supporters and surfers.
Both the Coastal Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce rejected the project.
Lisa Telles, a TCA spokeswoman, said draft environmental impact statements were prepared for the Foothill South but never finalized. If the project is resurrected with a revised route, she added, new environmental impact statements would be required.
"This was an administrative action," Telles said. "It was the right thing to close out the matter."
Tollway officials said they would now concentrate on building the so-called Tesoro extension, which would lengthen the 241 by almost six miles. The route would run from Oso Parkway near Coto de Caza to Cow Camp Road near San Juan Capistrano.
Planners say the road would provide access to the north for communities located inland of the 5 and for motorists traveling to Orange County from the Inland Empire via Ortega Highway, which crosses the Santa Ana Mountains.
Environmentalists have criticized the Tesoro proposal as a foot in the door to eventually revive the full extension. They have proposed non-tollway alternatives instead of building what amounts to a third of the Foothill South.
The Tesoro "has no independent utility and no other purpose except as part of a larger project," said Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League.
The TCA is now finalizing the Tesoro's environmental studies, which will clear the way to secure permits for construction.
Tollway officials have appealed a decision by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board in June 2013 to reject a discharge permit for the Tesoro project. The State Water Resources Control Board is considering the matter.
If the project is built, it will add to the 51 miles of toll roads now operated by the TCA. They include the State Routes 73, 241, and 261 as well as a portion of the 133.