Now that the South Bay Expressway is open, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce is emphasizing the need for another toll road in the region.
The chamber board voted to support the completion of the state Route 241 toll road Nov. 15. The project, on the drawing board since 1981, according to a chamber press release, would be built via a public-private partnership. The permit process is not expected to be completed until 2010, at the earliest.
The so-called Foothill-South project would span the 16-mile stretch of the state Route 241 toll road from its current end at Oso Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita and connect to Interstate 5 near San Clemente in northern San Diego County.
Estimated costs of the road proposed by the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency equaled $875 million in February 2006, but agency spokeswoman Jennifer Seaton says that budget estimates will increase every day until the project has broken ground. The agency has already spent $20 million on environmental studies surrounding the project’s impact, she says.
SR-241 would be a public road the day it opens, but would be built with no state taxpayer dollars, according to the public-private partnership proposal.
“The private aspect is Wall Street, in this case, not a private company. We are looking for investors to buy bonds which will pay for construction, and the bonds are then paid out over time through toll charges,” Seaton said.
San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce representative Scott Alevy says that the F/ETCA’s funding proposal of a public-private partnership would take the state’s economic woes into account.
“The road will be owned by the people without being paid for upfront,” Alevy said.
Road Would Be Vital Link
Alevy said in a recent press release that completion of state Route 241 will provide relief to the congestion on I-5 north of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and is critical to the San Diego hotel and tourism industries because so many visitors travel here by car.
While questions of environmental and preservation concerns have been raised by the Surfrider Foundation, Native American Heritage Commission and others, Alevy says no argument put forth has been compelling enough to overturn the chamber’s support of the venture.
“We looked at the proposal through our public policy transportation committee and our infrastructure committee, and then it went to the board. It was very supported at all those levels,” Alevy said.
The chamber, which has more than 3,000 members, endorsed the project in its monthly board meeting last month.
That support was announced just four days before the grand opening of the state Route 125 toll road called the South Bay Expressway, also a public-private venture.
Stefanie Sekich is campaign coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation’s Save Trestles campaign, a group that works to protect San Onofre State Park and the Trestles Beach surf break.
The most controversial segment of the proposed road would cut through San Onofre State Beach, a park located in northern San Diego County.
“We have concerns because the six-lane road will cut right through the inland portion of the park, which is now open space for camping, biking and other activities,” Sekich said.
“Also, the San Mateo watershed is a major drainage basin between two canyons that filters water naturally and cleans it. The road would obliterate that watershed,” said Sekich.
The other issue at hand, Sekich says, is how runoff from the road would alter the way sediment comes down from the watershed and gets dumped into the ocean.
“That sediment is what forms the waves at Trestles, and altering it would result in wave degradation,” she said.
Still, Sekich says that Surfrider is not against road projects.
“We’re annoyed in traffic, too. We don’t want to be obstructionists. You work within the existing footprints to make the most environmentally sound road possible. We believe that widening I-5, improving side streets, and adding another car-pool lane is the best alternative,” Sekich said.
No Need To Move Firms, Homes
Seaton says that the Environmental Protection Agency, Camp Pendleton representatives and other agencies examined 38 potential routes, and they determined that the suggested route was best for traffic relief and was the only course that did not require the relocation of homes or businesses.
“Any widening of I-5 that would actually solve traffic problems would result in taking 800 homes and over 300 businesses. Anything less is not a true alternative,” Seaton said.
She says an alternative is necessary because, according to population growth projections, the Orange County and northern San Diego County areas are expecting more than 618,000 new jobs and 240,000 new homes to be created by 2025.
Seaton says the F/ETCA plans to treat all runoff water associated with the proposed road.
“We’re going to collect and treat all runoff, and we are retrofitting a 2-mile portion of I-5 to collect runoff from that area, which is currently untreated,” Seaton said.