Federal officials have set a Sept. 22 hearing date in Del Mar to take public testimony regarding a proposed 16-mile extension of the 241 toll road through an ecological preserve and a popular state beach in northern San Diego County.
In February, the California Coastal Commission overwhelmingly rejected the plan, finding it violated the law designed to protect the coast. The decision seemed a death blow to the toll road, but supporters appealed the ruling to the U.S. Commerce secretary, saying that the thoroughfare would be critical to alleviating traffic congestion in southern Orange County and that the proposed route is the best way to do that.
A hearing on the proposal was previously scheduled for July at UC Irvine but was rescheduled. More than 3,500 people showed up at the Coastal Commission hearing in February, and a similarly large crowd is expected next month. The September hearing will be held in the same location, O'Brien Hall at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego County.
The project's backers and opponents both said Monday that they looked forward to the hearing.
"We're very pleased" that the Commerce secretary has determined that "a public hearing is a critical part of this process," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, which opposes the Foothill South toll road that would cut through San Onofre State Beach.
"We look forward to an open, productive hearing that will allow everyone who speaks to be heard and respected," the Transportation Corridor Agencies, which runs Orange County's network of toll roads, said in a prepared statement.
The hearing is scheduled to last 10 hours, beginning at 10:30 a.m. The Commerce Department is not expected to render a decision at the hearing. Most of the emphasis will be on taking testimony from elected officials, representatives of tribes and other groups, and members of the public.
The Coastal Commission, the TCA and other parties in the case are not expected to give presentations, though they will be allowed to speak during the public comment period if they request to do so.
Anyone wishing to speak at the hearing must submit a written request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by Sept. 12.