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Toll road’s toll

Officials at the Transportation Corridor Agencies are doing what they can to defend their (misguided) proposal for a toll road through a state park in San Diego County. It’s their idea, and they have every right to press for it. But even those who support the project should be chagrined at the agency’s suggestion that it be approved without further public hearing.

Rare is the road that does not bring both help and harm to the public, and the public already has demonstrated its interest in the Foothill South tollway. After the state Coastal Commission presided over a jammed and lively public hearing and rejected the proposal, the toll-road agency appealed to the U.S. Department of Commerce. In the appeal, officials made clear how bothered they were by the sometimes boisterous -- on both sides -- meeting.

Democracy can be indecorous. But before federal authorities weigh in, they should hear, fully and publicly from the people affected, the many reasons to oppose the proposal. It’s a freeway to nowhere that would encourage sprawl, all but ruin San Onofre State Beach and cut through an Orange County nature reserve. However justifiably toll-road supporters may have complained about the tone of the Coastal Commission’s hearing, the commission had no real choice when it rejected the project, finding that it clearly violates the state’s Coastal Act.

The toll-road agency has a better option -- widening Interstate 5 with toll lanes through San Clemente. It would take more time and money, because the agency would have to condemn developed property along the route. But it’s a more direct and less environmentally destructive way to go. And its workability has been demonstrated in similar projects on the I-5 through central and northern Orange County.

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A six-lane highway will be around for ages. So will the environmental fallout if it’s allowed to cut through one of the few remaining pristine coastal canyons in Southern California. Despite Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s framing of the debate, this is not about traffic versus a park. It’s about a willingness to do the right thing for commuters and the wilderness both.


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