Opinion: The Foothill South toll road--in whose interest, exactly?


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The California Coastal Commission has already said no way. Now the fate of the proposed toll road through San Onofre State Beach lies with the Bush administration--and given the administration’s distaste for environmental protection and near-hostility toward parks, that can’t be a good thing for the ‘Save Trestles’ crowd.

But the feds aren’t supposed to just decide based on how much they like the road. The criteria are supposed to be narrow--the road’s supporters are supposed to show that it’s in the national interest, overriding local and state interests.


The Transportation Corridor Agencies have come up with some creative arguments for why the road, which would travel the length of the inland canyon that’s also part of the state park, as well as running through a nature preserve in south Orange County, is in the national interest. Like it would make coastal access easier. Actually, I always thought coastal access was supposed to mean people’s ability to use the beach up to the high tide line, not to provide high-speed transit from, say, the desert. Another argument involved quick evacuation in case of an accident at the San Onofre nuclear plant. Not only has the plant been operating for decades without one, but it’s odd to think that residents of San Clemente, by far the closest community to the nuclear plant, would escape it by driving south to the entrance of the freeway.

The editorial board has taken a stand several times against the toll road, and a new editorial is in the works. But the federal government’s involvement raises different questions to address about the road. Exactly what should it mean for the toll road to be in the national interest? Here’s a place for all of you who didn’t get to speak at the big Del Mar hearing to have your say. A summary of the toll-road agency’s viewpoint, sent to me by its public affairs person, is after the jump.

1) Furthers the national interest in development of the coastal zone. 241 provides an alternative evacuation route, serving the national interest in public safety on a nationally significant transportation corridor. The Federal Highway Administration agrees – noting the lack of alternative routes for re-routing of traffic and commenting on the risks to the region if the 5 is not functioning. Also noted that evacuation plans fro the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station rely heavily on I-5

2) Involves the priority consideration given to orderly processes for siting major regional transportation facilities and in improving mobility on the Interstate Highway System. The purpose of the project is to provide relief for I-5 – the most important transportation corridor of the second largest metropolitan area in the nation and a primary corridor for goods movement and international trade between the US and Mexico.

3) Furthers the national interest in providing access to the coast for recreational purposes. The coastal commission has made formal findings that congestion on this portion of I-5 interferes with coastal recreation access. (findings regarding north county transit district’s railroad passing track extension)

4) Furthers national interest in improving, safeguarding and restoring the quality of coastal waters by installing water treatment system along 2 miles of I-5 that are currently untreated.

5) Furthers national interest by assisting the state in complying the federal Clean Air Act requirements. The 241 is a transportation control measure identified by the EPA and the Air Quality Management District as necessary to meet clean air standards. While the emission benefits of any one TCM may be modest, in the aggregate they play an important role. As a practical matter, no single project would be likely to provide the equivalent emission reductions for the 66 lane miles of the 241 within the South Coast Air Basin.


6) Furthers national interest by providing improvements to enhance training mission at Camp Pendleton. The Marine Corps has acknowledged the project will provide important training and infrastructure improvements.

* A project is of significant and substantial national interest if it will benefit large metropolitan areas. The 241 will benefit 21 million Southern California residents
* The national interest is furthered by the activity outweighs the adverse coastal effects
* No reasonable or available alternative. Alternatives proposed by opponents violate state design and safety standards, have enormous community impacts and have no source of funding – thus they are not reasonable and available.
* State and federal transportation funding is in crisis – highway trust fund depleted
* The Secretary’s review is de novo – does not focus on the rationale underlying the objection.