Suit Filed to Block Newport Coast Tolls : Court: Residents claim that San Joaquin Hills tollway agency has no right to impose 50-cent fee on segment of public road.


A group of Newport Beach and Laguna Beach residents has sued the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency to block the conversion of a 1.4-mile section of Newport Coast Drive to a tollway.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Orange County Superior Court, the Newport Coast Drive Defense Fund alleges that the agency has no authority to impose a 50-cent toll on a road being paid for with property taxes.

“We’ve been fighting for almost two years to keep Newport Coast Drive open because we know it’s a free public road,” said Ilse Lenschow, a 20-year Laguna Beach resident who is president of the Coalition of Neighborhood Assns. there.

Her group contends that affected residents were not properly notified of the toll plan and that the road--built to ease anticipated traffic problems on Pacific Coast Highway caused by the Irvine Co.'s Newport Coast development--was funded through a special assessment district.


Agency spokeswoman Lisa Telles declined comment because the agency had not been served with a copy of the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs want a judge to rule that imposition of a toll on what had been a toll-free public road would exceed the agency’s authority.

The group also wants a court order barring the agency from collecting a toll on any portion of six-mile-long Newport Coast Drive and from closing it except for brief periods required for construction of a separate San Joaquin Hills toll road.

The lawsuit challenges only the agency’s right to impose a toll on Newport Coast Drive, not its right to build the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor.

The planned 15-mile San Joaquin Hills toll road would extend from MacArthur Boulevard at the end of the Corona del Mar Freeway to Interstate 5 near San Juan Capistrano.

The disputed section of Newport Coast Drive runs from MacArthur Boulevard to Bonita Canyon Drive. From there, Newport Coast Drive bends south from the corridor toward Crystal Cove State Beach.

The agency plans to incorporate the 1.4-mile segment of Newport Coast Drive into the northernmost leg of the $1.1-billion tollway, which is projected to be completed in 1997.

At least six other lawsuits have been brought in state and federal courts to block the larger tollway project. Most of those suits challenge the adequacy of environmental studies related to air quality, traffic, noise and wildlife in the transportation corridor and the impact of potential development once the tollway is built.


The Newport Coast Drive Defense Fund suit contends that state and federal laws expressly bar the agency from imposing a toll on an existing road and that absorbing a section of Newport Coast Drive into the tollway is more akin to refurbishing an old road than building a new one.

The threatened toll would violate federal laws passed to secure federal funding for up to 35% of the corridor, according to the lawsuit.