September 23, 2008

Overwhelming Evidence Presented for 241 Completion; Facts Trump Myths at Commerce Hearing

Supporters and outside experts presented a steady stream of facts and overwhelming evidence here today 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, countering the emotional appeals and propaganda from anti-road factions.

Community leaders from along the route, independent experts, commuters, small business owners and a large contingent from labor unions paraded the facts here today during the U.S. Department of Commerce hearing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, often being booed by the anti-road factions who continued their litany of myths. Jerry Amante, chairman of the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), applauded the speakers from all over the southland who highlighted the need for completing the 241, 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.

"Completing the 241 is the final link in 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 will relieve major congestion on Interstate 5, save time and money in commuting and 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 said the anti-road factions repeated seven major myths during the hearing:

-- Myth One - TCA is running a six-lane road through the park and beach.

-- Myth Two - The road will ruin 60 percent of the park.

-- Myth Three - The road will ruin the camping experience at one of the most popular parks in the state and one dedicated to perpetuity by the late President Ronald Reagan.

-- Myth Four - The 241 will ruin the surf at Trestles beach.

-- Myth Five - The 241 is permanent one of the most environmentally destructive projects in California history and will decimate endangered habitats.

-- Myth Six - The toll road will do little to alleviate traffic congestion.

-- Myth Seven - Widening I-5 is the best option.

Facts and government agency reports show that the 241 crosses an inland subunit of San Onofre State Beach Park east of Interstate 5 almost a mile from the beach. The inland subunit is 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, far from the 241. These visitors will see no change to their experience after the road is built. Plans call for keeping all sites open during and after construction.

Opponents used selective data from only the least popular inland subunit on the east side of I-5 to claim that 60 percent of the park will be ruined. That statement assumes that the entire inland portion of the park is closed down, which California Resources Secretary Michael Chrisman has said will not happen. No campsites will have to be removed and TCA has offered to contribute $100 million to improve California's state parks system. A claim that the late President Ronald Reagan dedicated the park to the state in perpetuity is also wrong. San Onofre State Beach is owned by the U.S. Navy, not the State of California, and is part of a very active U.S. Marine base, Camp Pendleton. The inland park site is leased to the state. The state obtained the lease, which expires in 2021, with the knowledge that the federal government has the right to approve roads in the area.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife: "No Jeopardy" to Endangered Species

Speakers cited reports from multiple government agencies and outside experts. The most compelling: a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion that the road will not jeopardize the existence of any endangered species. The report issued a strong rebuttal to the "unsubstantiated assertions" made by the Coastal Commission staff about apocalypse for the pocket mouse and other species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion debunked many of the myths:

-- "Currently, no designated or proposed critical habitat exists in the action area of the toll road project....Therefore, critical habitat for the tidewater goby, arroyo toad, Riverside fairy shrimp, San Diego fairy shrimp, southwestern willow flycatcher, least Bell's vireo, coastal California gnatcatcher, and thread-leaved brodiaea are not considered further in this opinion."

-- The toll road will have no impact on the arroyo toad population.

-- "Following completion of the proposed restoration, we anticipate that the number of gnatcatcher pairs range wide will be similar to or slightly greater than pre-project conditions."

The National Marine Fisheries Service has determined that the project would not adversely impact Steelhead Trout. TCA plans to build temporary bridges for construction equipment, even during the dry season, will ensure that there is no interference with migrating steelhead if there was water flow. The NMFS also determined that when construction is complete, the final bridges are not expected to interfere with the steelhead migratory habitat.

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

The 241 Toll Road will be constructed to ensure that the world-class surf conditions at Trestles Beach will be fully protected. Two independent peer reviews of reports on the completion of the 241 Toll Road and surfing conditions in the vicinity of San Mateo Creek 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, said: "No substantial change, either positive or negative, to surfing quality would result from the project." This was validated by another study from Howard H. Chang, Ph.D., professor of civil and environmental engineering at San Diego State University and a noted consultant with more than 40 years of experience in river sedimentation.

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.

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 take pressure off I-5, 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 only coastal route between the San Diego and Long Beach/Los Angeles ports, and is used for international trade and goods. The region needs an alternative route for emergency situations and the 241 is the answer, he told the hearing.

The 241 Generates Jobs

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.

Joel Lautenschleger, mayor pro tem from Laguna Hills, cited growing unemployment in the region and the fact that every major political figure has talked about job creation as a major national concern.

"Given the desperate status of many California families, it is more than troubling that the project opponents seem to be gleeful about the economic crisis," he said. "They have seized on the economic downturn and the increase in gas prices to claim that the project is not necessary."

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

In addition to providing abundant background to the U.S. Department of Commerce, TCA engineers answered questions 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.

"The photo was a wakeup call for a many of those who came here against the road," said Amante. "People were visibly upset and felt they had been misled and manipulated by Surfrider and other organizations. They kept pursuing their 'Save Trestles' fundraising campaign knowing full well that building the 241 would have no impact on the beaches, watershed and environment."


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.