The Foothill South toll-road project isn’t as dead as its opponents would like. The original, unacceptable proposal, which would have routed part of the 16-mile superhighway through the narrow length of a popular state park just south of Orange County, was rejected by the California Coastal Commission. But theTransportation Corridor Agencies are now considering a puzzling new proposal to build the first 4 miles of the project while they try to figure out the rest of the route the road would take.
The toll-road agency isn’t barred from trying again with a different route, but that’s not easy. If the southern end of the road were moved a little to the north of San Onofre State Beach, it would pass through the built-out areas of the city of San Clemente. Moved a little south, it would pass through Camp Pendleton, and though the agency is talking to the U.S. Marine Corps about possible options, camp officials have been consistently resistant to civilian developments in their midst.
Environmentalists worry that the new move is an attempt by the toll-road agency to sneak its highway through the approval system, and back into the state park, by building it in segments. If 4 miles are built, why not a few more? And then a few more? An agency spokeswoman says it has gotten the message about the state park and wouldn’t try to go there again.
Either way, though, the Foothill South is a significant transportation project that shouldn’t be submitted for approval until its full route has been resolved.
According to the toll-road agency, even if the road went no farther than those first 4 miles toward the southeast corner of Orange County, it would still be a worthwhile project. The 4-mile spur would reach much of the 14,000-unit Rancho Mission Viejo development, which is expected to break ground on its first phase within a few years. Its isolated residents will need the toll road for convenient access to job and commercial centers in central Orange County and northern Riverside County, according to the agency.
But that’s not what transportation planners for the development say. The construction plan was devised to be independent of any toll road. The developer is working on several ideas for reducing rather than encouraging car use: vanpooling, locating job centers close to housing and building arterials that are bicycle and pedestrian friendly. In addition, 6,000 residential units are set aside for retirees, who presumably would do little commuting.
The Foothill South extension needs a better reason to go forward — and a better-thought-out plan — than its proponents have articulated so far.