BY PHIL BLAIR, JULIE MEIER WRIGHT AND GARY KNIGHT
On Feb. 6, the California Coastal Commission will hold a hearing on approval of the extension of state Route 241 , the final link in Orange County’s 67-mile toll road system that will connect to Interstate 5. Completion of this 16-mile stretch is critical to the continued growth of the San Diego economy, which relies so heavily on the flow of commerce and tourism from all of Southern California and beyond.
State Route 241 is both the best solution to reducing congestion and avoiding daily gridlock on I-5 and the most fiscally responsible. Opponents propose widening Interstate 5. This option would cost an estimated $2.4 billion and displace hundreds of homes and businesses. It is also illusory; there are no federal or state funds available to pay for a project of such colossal proportions.
The 241 toll road, on the other hand, will be built with zero tax dollars; users pay their way. The 241 is exactly what Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had in mind when he called for more public-private partnerships to solve infrastructure issues in an era of statewide budget deficits. This is why the governor issued a powerful letter supporting the extension and urging the Coastal Commission to approve it.
The 241 will improve public safety by serving as an alternate evacuation route from both the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. It will also allow new access to the northwest quadrant of the Marine base where entrance was limited during the October fires after the forced closure of Interstate 5.
Despite claims to the contrary, no campsites in or around San Onofre State Beach will be destroyed and construction won’t impede access to the beaches or parks. Environmental preservation is of utmost concern to the Transportation Corridor Agency. The TCA board authorized the payment of $100 million to the state park system for mitigation and to improve the state park at San Onofre during difficult budget times.
Opponents also claim that the road will impact the Trestles surf spot, but the 241 actually ends one-half mile from the beach on Camp Pendleton. Engineering experts have confirmed that the break at Trestles will remain unharmed and all beaches and water quality throughout the area will be protected.
Anyone who lives, works and drives in the region can be assured that the most rigorous of environmental standards have been observed for the planning and construction of state Route 241. Planners worked with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration and the California Department of Transportation for more than six years to select an alignment in 2006 that accommodates the needs of the traveling public with what independent experts say will be the most environmentally sensitive road ever designed.
Ensuring that California has world-class infrastructure is essential to our economic competitiveness. Easing congestion along this lone coastal artery is critical to keeping both commerce and people flowing, not to mention invaluable to those commuters who find themselves spending hours in traffic along Interstate 5. That, as they say, is priceless.
Phil Blair is chairman, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce; Julie Meier Wright is president, San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.; and Gary Knight is president, San Diego North Economic Development Council.