TCA Looks for Alternative Route in South Orange County for Foothill South Connection

Wed Feb 8th, On Environmental Law, by

In a historic compact between the State, environmental groups and the Orange County Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) to preserve San Onofre State Beach, TCA withdrew a plan to extend the six lane 241 toll road to connect to I-5, known as “Foothill-South.”  Foothill-South was planned as the last segment of the 241 tollway connecting South Orange County to north San Diego County. It had been the subject of regional planning efforts for the more than 20 years. The extension was intended to provide an alternate route to Interstate 5 for those traveling from Riverside, Corona and southeast Orange County to points southward as well as those traveling from North San Diego County northward.

The final four miles of the proposed tollway extension was planned to be located on Camp Pendleton Marine Base, through a section of the San Onofre State Park, which is leased from the United States Marine Corps. The Marine Corps reserved the right to grant easements for rights of way when the lease with the California Department of Parks and Recreation was signed in 1971.

The withdrawal of the extension ended five lawsuits and ensured the protection of San Onofre State Beach.

Opposition to Proposed 241 Tollway

The extension was opposed by many conservationists, environmental groups, and residents of San Clemente because of threats to water quality and damage to Trestles, a world-famous surfing spot, by the proposed 6-lane highway.  Another concern was a non-compete clause which the TCA has signed with the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans.

The clause required Caltrans to compensate the TCA for lost revenue caused by highway improvements that reduce toll revenue because of competition with the tollways. The clause expires in 2020. The TCA are two joint powers authorities formed by the California legislature in 1986 to plan, finance, construct and operate Orange County’s public toll road system. Elected officials from surrounding cities and county supervisorial districts are appointed to serve on each agency’s board of directors.

Alternatives Must Protect San Onofre State Beach

Under the settlement, TCA will be allowed to consider alternatives to the Foothill-South extension. One alternate route for Foothill-South is the “beltway” alternative.  The beltway route would continue south past Oso Parkway as planned but would then turn westward north of Ortega Highway and continue between the communities of San Juan Capistrano and Ladera Ranch before meeting Interstate 5 and California State Route 73 in southwest Mission Viejo. A widening of Interstate 5 south of the beltway interchange would be necessary to alleviate congestion south of Mission Viejo.

The settlement ensures permanent protection of San Onofre, the San Mateo Creek watershed, the Richard and Donna O’Neill Conservancy and Indian sites. The settlement also calls for TCA to create a $28-million conservation fund that will help preserve the San Mateo Creek watershed that drains into the ocean at Trestles. The San Mateo Creek Watershed is an undammed, intact watershed in coastal Southern California.

The agreement resolves all outstanding litigation arising out of the TCA’s Foothill-South and Tesoro Extension plans to extend the 241 toll road in southern Orange County, as follows:

  1. Settles five lawsuits challenging TCA’s 2006 and 2013 approvals of its Foothill-South and Tesoro Extension projects brought by the California Attorney General and members of the Save San Onofre Coalition.
  2. Provides that TCA will rescind its 2006 approval of the so-called “Green Alignment” that would have run through San Onofre State Beach and its 2013 approval of its Tesoro Extension project.
  3. Ensures permanent protection of San Onofre State Beach, the Richard and Donna O’Neill Conservancy, and other critical open space, wildlife habitat and cultural resources in the San Mateo Creek and adjacent watersheds from TCA-sponsored road projects.
  4. Allows TCA to move forward with a formal CEQA/NEPA process to review alternative routes for connecting SR-241 to the Interstate 5 freeway and develop an SR-241 extension project that avoids San Onofre State Beach and other environmentally and culturally sensitive lands designated in the agreement, without opposition by the environmental organizations comprising the Save San Onofre Coalition.
  5. Establishes a cooperative framework by which an alignment for the SR-241 and other I-5 traffic congestion solutions can be identified, evaluated and potentially advanced in a manner that follows applicable laws, is consistent with recommendations issued by regulatory agencies in 2008, and meets south Orange County’s transportation needs.
  6. Creates a robust conservation fund to help preserve and restore San Mateo Creek and its watershed. An important component of the agreement is an unprecedented commitment by TCA to create a $28 million conservation fund that will help preserve and restore San Mateo Creek and its watershed. An independent oversight committee comprised of Save San Onofre Coalition members, TCA and resource agencies will work collaboratively to target priority land acquisitions and carry out critical habitat restoration projects.
  7. Requires preparation of a Coastal Access Management Plan that will mitigate impacts from any construction of an alternative toll road alignment project, ensure continuous public shoreline access to San Onofre State Beach during construction of any project and result in permanent public access enhancements.

Bick Law’s California environmental regulatory lawyers will be following the ongoing efforts of TCA to pursue environmental review of alternative routes to connect the 5 freeway to the 241 tollway.

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