Toll road agreement tabled by council

A Caltrans request for the city to sign a "freeway agreement" related to a toll road the city officially opposed was postponed at the Sept. 6 council meeting for additional research.

The San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor (73 Freeway) was inherited by Caltrans from the Transportation Corridor Agency, which constructed it, but the standard freeway agreement was overlooked in the process, according to a staff report.

"I couldn't understand what the agreement required, and I wasn't going to vote on it until I did," said Councilwoman Verna Rollinger, who requested the postponement. "There was a reference to a previous agreement, but as of that Tuesday (meeting date), no one could find the agenda bill or the minutes of the meeting when that happened."

The proposed agreement imposes no future obligations on the city, according to the analysis by the city staff.

However, Rollinger had questions about references in the agreement to obligations for future funding and construction to be dealt with in a separate cooperative agreement, as well as the acquisition of city streets, frontage roads and other local roads required for the construction, reconstruction or alteration of the toll road.

Further, the agreement states that the city agreed to the construction that traverses through the city's jurisdiction from the Aliso Viejo city limits to the Newport Beach city limits.

In fact, Laguna Beach did not agree to either the construction or the design of the toll road and was the only city through which the 73 ran that was not a member of the TCA.

Local environmentalists considered it a desecration of open space; others saw it a welcome time-saver.

The corridor agency and Caltrans signed an agreement dated April 7, 1995, that said the state Department of Transportation would assume maintenance of SR 73 when it was completed. In May of 1996, the California Transportation Commission declared the toll road a "freeway."

"I don't know how they can call it a freeway and charge a toll," said Rollinger, who has never driven it and only twice ridden on it as a reluctant passenger.

Caltrans has been maintaining and operating the toll road since the completion. The freeway agreement memorializes existing conditions, and its approval was recommended by staff.

Several affected cities recently have approved similar agreements.

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