CORONA DEL MAR : Tollway’s Effects on Local Traffic Studied


After years of dispute, the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency has commissioned a study to answer the ultimate question: Will putting tollbooths on Newport Coast Drive affect traffic patterns through Corona del Mar?

The agency has maintained that once the tollway connecting Corona del Mar Freeway to the South County is completed, it will divert 16,000 cars a day from Coast Highway between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach. But many residents of this seaside town are suspicious of those numbers, and believe that thousands of motorists will skirt the tolls by traveling Coast Highway through their neighborhoods.

The $35,000 study, complete with specific numbers, is due to be finished next month. However, regardless of the outcome, the tollbooths will be installed where Newport Coast Driveoverlaps the tollway, agency officials say.


“This survey may prove or disprove (the agency’s position) . . . but then what can we do about it?” said Newport Beach Councilman Phil Sansone, who is also on the tollway board.

The tollbooths, where motorists pay 50 cents for each trip, are part of the repayment scheme that backs $1.1 billion in bonds used to finance the project, Sansone said. If the tollbooths were eliminated, the bondholders might sue the agency, he said.

Terry Austin, a partner in Austin-Foust Associates, which was commissioned to do the traffic study, says preliminary data predicts that there might be a modest overall rise in the number of cars traveling through Corona del Mar as a result of the tollway. It appears, Austin said, that more cars will pass through town during non-rush hours, during rush hours, the numbers will decrease.

The tollway agency plans to build the toll road to overlap what is now a 1.4-mile stretch of Newport Coast Drive to the point where it connects to the Corona del Mar Freeway. The tollway is to open in 1997.

To prepare its analysis, Austin said, his firm will use data from 2,700 surveys handed out to motorists along Newport Coast Drive. The cards sought information on where the drivers were going, how often they travel the street and asked if they would continue to use the road if they had to pay a 50-cent toll for each trip.

The full report will be released publicly by the tollway agency in about six weeks, Austin said.