We Saved San Onofre State Park From The Toll Road--Yet Local Transportation Officials Remain In Denial

It’s been over two years since one of California’s most popular state parks was spared from being paved over by a six-lane toll road.  It turns out, however, that not everyone’s gotten the message about the road’s demise.

In December 2008, NRDC and our coalition partners rejoiced when the federal Commerce Department upheld the California Coastal Commission’s decision to block the construction of the Foothill-South Toll Road.  The toll road was slated to run right through the heart of San Onofre State Beach Park in south Orange County, a hiking and surfing hot spot that attracts more than 2.5 million visitors a year.

Because of these definitive rulings, this destructive road project can no longer obtain the permits it would need to get built.  However, this hasn’t stopped local transportation officials from including the toll road in their long-term transportation vision for Orange County.

Last week, NRDC and our coalition partners wrote a letter urging the Orange County Transportation Authority to remove the toll road from its 2010 Long Range Transportation Plan.  In the letter, we object to including the toll road in the “Year 2035 Baseline,” which is exactly what it sounds like – a snapshot of what Orange County’s transportation network will look like in 25 years.  This “baseline” is only supposed to include projects that have been “assessed for their environmental impacts and approved to be implemented.”  The toll road does not fit this description – in fact, the road was disapproved at both the federal and state levels for its devastating impacts to coastal resources.

It’s bad planning to include this road in the County’s long-term transportation vision.  It will skew the traffic analysis, misleading decision-makers to think there’s going to be road where there isn’t.  This, in turn, will throw off the analysis for every other transportation project in the plan.

Not only is this toll road not going to be built, but the agency behind it, TCA, wouldn’t be able to fund it anyway.  At $1.2 billion, this road is the single most expensive project in the Year 2035 Baseline.  But toll road ridership in Orange County is down across the board.  And TCA already is saddled with an ever-increasing debt load it has been unable to refinance.

This disapproved, underfunded toll road has no place in Orange County’s transportation future.  We urge the Orange County Transportation Authority to do the right thing and pull the project from its Long Range Transportation Plan.