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Tollway Panel Hears Final Arguments on Environmental Impact : Transportation: The San Joaquin Hills agency is to vote next month on whether to approve a report that foes say does not address the pay road’s consequences.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Making their final pitch on the $680-million San Joaquin Hills tollway, backers of the highway Thursday heralded it as a missing link in the county’s transportation network, while opponents voiced concerns ranging from economic to environmental.

More than 100 residents, business leaders and government officials recited a litany of familiar themes during the second of two hearings on the proposed 15-mile route’s environmental document, setting the stage for a decision next month by the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency--which held the hearings--on whether to approve the report.

As with the first hearing two weeks ago, both sides generally avoided the myriad details of the environmental impact report and focused instead during the six-hour session on the fundamental question of whether the pay-to-use highway should be built.

Supporters said the highway, which would spur off Interstate 5 in San Juan Capistrano and wind through rolling coastal hills to the Corona del Mar Freeway in Newport Beach, is needed to keep South County from choking on its own traffic.

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“The population of Orange County is already here,” said Donna Warner of Mission Viejo. “It must be accommodated. I say let’s proceed and solve our transportation problems for now and for the future.”

But opponents said the tollway would merely spark explosive growth in the region and trample pristine backcountry that represents the last vestiges of the county’s bucolic past.

“You mistakenly believe that the developers are your friends,” Rudolph Maglin of San Juan Capistrano told the tollway agency’s board of directors. “But remember, when they have completed the rape of our beautiful Capistrano Valley, they will forget about you and go elsewhere to pillage. But you . . . will have to live here in a blight of your own making.”

With the two public hearings under their belt, the tollway agency directors are scheduled to vote March 14 on the environmental document. If approved, the project will move on to the Federal Highway Administration, probably in early summer.

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Opponents, however, have promised to file suit if the tollway agency approves the environmental report.

The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has expressed severe reservations about the highway’s impact on air quality, although tollway agency officials maintain that they have made headway in recent meetings with the EPA to assuage those concerns.

Proponents of the project said growth will occur whether or not the highway is built.

They also said it will reduce carbon monoxide by nearly 15%, while reducing an average trip from Laguna Niguel to John Wayne Airport by 45 minutes in the year 2010.

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Foes admitted that the project might reduce the regional effects of air pollution but insisted that some sections along the roadway will suffer far worse air pollution.

“Walt Disney had better ideas 40 years ago,” Patricia Spence of San Juan Capistrano said. “A tour of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland would be very enlightening for the corridor’s engineers.”

Other tollway foes suggested that the highway poses problems for Southern California’s drought-plagued water supply, noting that highway construction will require millions of gallons for dust control. Moreover, foes suggested that growth spurred by the highway will result in an inevitable increase in water demand.

Toni Iseman, a tollway opponent, suggested that county taxpayers might have to “bail out” the tollway agency if motorists do not use the highway.

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Referring to the scandal over the collapse of Irvine-based Lincoln Savings & Loan, she told the 11-member tollway agency board: “We know about the Keating Five. Do you want to be known as the Corridor 11?”

But supporters said such concerns are unfounded. “Those who suggest the project shouldn’t be built unless all concerns are addressed aren’t citizens of the real world,” Robert Pereley of Irvine said.

“The majority has spoken many times,” he said. “The majority views are just that--majority views. Let’s get on with it.”


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