September 22, 2008

Supporters Make Case for 241 Completion; Facts and Analysis Trump Myths at Commerce Hearing

Supporters and outside experts will present a steady stream of facts today providing detailed evidence that the proposed route for the completion of State Route 241 to connect with Interstate 5 south of San Clemente is safe for the environment, watershed, wildlife, campers, surfing and the beaches.

Jerry Amante, chairman of the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), will be the first speaker in the U.S. Department of Commerce hearing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and in his four-minute presentation will highlight the need for the extension, the sensitivity of the plan and how much the extension is favored by a large majority of the residents in both Orange and San Diego counties.

"The extension of the 241 is part of a comprehensive regional transportation plan put in place in 1981 to meet the needs of 21 million Southern California residents and those who travel the region for pleasure or commerce," Amante said. "The 241 is the final link in the plan. It will relieve major congestion on Interstate 5 to the benefit of the entire region. It will save time and money in commuting, plus reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Public opinion polls of Orange County and San Diego residents have shown overwhelming support for the extension of the toll road by 2-1 margins. When apprised of the true facts -- that the alignment is nowhere near the beach, does not close any campgrounds, and has met tough environmental standards -- rather than the myths spread by the anti-road campaign, voters are even more likely to support the project."

Amante and an impressive array of supporters - community leaders from along the route, independent experts, commuters, small business owners and a large contingent from labor unions - were scheduled to counter opponents' extreme claims. The facts included studies from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determining that the road would not jeopardize any threatened or endangered species and highlight the economic and other benefits.

Representatives from labor - the building trades, carpenters, operating engineers, iron workers and Teamsters in Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange and San Diego Counties - had one big word: jobs. The 241 represents thousands of guaranteed jobs in the next two years, plus a ripple effect of employing up to 20,000 at a time during a down economy.

40-Foot Aerial Photo Display Clearly Debunks Anti-Road Claims

In addition to providing abundant background to the U.S. Department of Commerce in advance of the hearing, TCA engineers and supporters began answering questions this morning at the fairgrounds in front of a 40-foot wide aerial photo of the route. The photo clearly demonstrated the sensitivity of the design and contrasted sharply with the tactics of the opponents who used "photo-shopped" compilations to falsely claim the 241 would cause irreparable harm to parks, beaches, creeks and streams and endangered habitats.

"A picture is worth a thousand words," Amante said. "In this case, our aerial picture is worth a million words in countering the propaganda from the opposition. The photo and all the facts show this alignment is the best for all."

The 40-foot display countered another opponents' myth that TCA is running a six-lane road through San Onofre State Beach and closing campsites. The alignment crosses the inland subunit of San Onofre State Beach Park east of Interstate 5 (I-5) almost a mile from the beach and used by only five percent of park visitors. Ninety-five percent of the park's visitors go the beach portions of the park on the west side of I-5 to enjoy Trestles, Old Mans and San Onofre Beaches. These visitors will see no change to their experience after the road is built.

Independent Peer Review: Surf and Beaches are Safe, Habitats Protected

An independent peer review of reports on the completion of the 241 Toll Road and surfing conditions in the vicinity of San Mateo Creek has concluded that the project will have no impact on surfing or wave formation. Richard J. Seymour, Ph.D., research engineer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and noted consultant in coastal oceanography, conducted the review. "No substantial change, either positive or negative, to surfing quality would result from the project," Seymour stated in his report.

The road ends a half mile from the beach on the east side of Interstate 5 at Basilone Road on Marine Corps property, not at Trestles beach; the 241 was designed to protect the beaches, with no impact on the surf. The road will bridge over San Mateo Creek on four small columns, each about 70 square feet at the base and designed for minimal environmental impact. Through the years, more than 500 supports, abutments, pier walls, footings, timber piles and upgraded foundations have been sunk into the San Mateo Watershed area to support the existing railroad trestles, Old Highway 101, and eight lanes of Interstate 5. The creek will continue to flow just as it does today with the completion of the 241 Toll Road.

The project also includes a state-of-the-art system to collect and treat storm water runoff, including runoff from a segment of I-5 that currently goes untreated.

"Outside experts and agencies have validated the sensitive design of the route to avoid endangered habitats and protect the beaches," said Amante. "The alignment preserves huge blocks of open space for wildlife corridors, avoiding wetlands and occupied habitat areas. Most of the watershed is in Camp Pendleton and Cleveland National Forest. Dozens of alternative routes were analyzed. This alignment was the one that avoided the most sensitive habitat areas and provided the most traffic relief."

Widening I-5 Not an Option

Experts also dismissed opponents' claims that widening Interstate 5 is an option. It would cost Californians an estimated $2.4 billion, plus wipe out some 1,200 homes and businesses in the heart of San Clemente. No federal or state funds exist to widen I-5.

Most importantly, Amante said, extending the 241 will relieve traffic on Interstate 5 in South Orange County by providing an alternative route. Without the toll road, travel from the San Diego/Orange County border to Rancho Santa Margarita will take one hour in 2025. With the toll road constructed, the same drive on Interstate 5 will take 25 minutes and it will take 16 minutes on the toll road.

Will Kempton, director of Caltrans, said completion of the 241 Toll Road will provide relief for the projected 60 percent increase in traffic volume on the Interstate 5 at the Orange/San Diego county line - a corridor the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has designated as having the highest national importance to interstate travel and international trade. The I-5 is the sole coastal route between the San Diego and Long Beach/Los Angeles ports, and is used for international trade and goods. Both the FHWA and Caltrans have goals to create a highway network to address emergency situations. Southern Orange County lacks an alternative route, putting the region at considerable risks should I-5 be unavailable for any reason.

"The Foothill Toll Road connection to I-5 would provide this needed alternate route," he said in prepared testimony scheduled to be presented at 1 p.m.

Kempton rejected alternatives suggested by project opponents because they included designs that would be unacceptable or impractical for use on I-5. He said this toll road project will improve mobility on a burdened infrastructure and improve access to and from the coast. It will provide important air quality benefits, as validated by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

"The Foothill South toll road can be built without state and federal funding in a manner that will enhance and foster the use of California's great Pacific coast and protect coastal resources," Kempton said. "The project will reduce congestion, increase vital economic activity, and improve the quality of life for residents and users."


Extending the 241 will relieve traffic on Interstate 5 in South Orange County by providing an alternative route. With construction of the toll road, two miles of Interstate 5 will be retrofitted to collect and treat runoff, improving water quality in the Trestles area. Without the toll road, travel from the San Diego/Orange County border to Mission Viejo will take one hour in 2025. With the toll road constructed, the same drive on Interstate 5 will take 25 minutes and it will take 16 minutes on the toll road. The new road will provide an alternative to Interstate 5 for the hundreds of thousands of motorists a day who travel between San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles Counties.