The Road to Nowhere

We thought we killed it. But like a zombie, the Trestles toll road is back

Proponents of the toll road are pushing for pavement once again near Trestles. Photo: Lowe-White

If you thought it was time to turn your "Save Trestles" t-shirt into a dishrag, think again. In a meeting last Thursday, the TCA voted to move forward with the initial phases of developing a four-mile stretch of the 241 toll road extension.

The decision comes after years of failing to gain permission to construct the entire sixteen-mile road, which would extend the 241 from it's current end-point through San Onofre State Park or Camp Pendleton--connecting with highway 5 near Trestles. Each of those proposals were firmly denied.

Now the TCA wants to take on the project in segments--extending the 241 Toll Road four miles from Oso Parkway down to the Ortega highway or thereabouts.

The planning phases of construction, fundraising, and assessing the environmental impacts are now underway. There is some concern over the impact on endangered species, wetlands, and downstream run-off. But according to the president of the California State Parks Foundation, Elizabeth Goldstein, "What we're most concerned about is the pressure it puts to go the rest of the way through the State Park or Camp Pendleton."

In its meeting agenda, the TCA explains its new strategy of "constructing the project in segments." This plan appears to violate environmental laws. As Goldstein points out, "There are laws against segmenting projects in ways that hide environmental impacts."

Some view the current proposal as an attempt to build less controversial pieces of the road as a way of weakening opposition to the project's completion. Mark Rauscher, the coastal preservation manager at the Surfrider Foundation states, "The Coastal Commission shut them down. The Bush administration shut them down. And now they're thinking, 'Let's just build a little bit. Maybe the politics will change later and we can ram it through the rest of the way then.'"

It isn't clear how the four-mile extension would help alleviate traffic, which has been one of the project's main initiatives from the beginning. As it stands, the current proposal may worsen congestion in the area. Rauscher believes, "The whole point of this project [the four-mile segment] is to access land where they want to build a bunch of new houses."

The extension potentially serves as a major arterial road to new development in the surrounding area, where developers already have permission to construct thousands of new homes-- but no major road for access. Rauscher frames the central problem with this idea: "How are you going to reduce traffic if you're putting in new development and adding more people? It's adds an increase in traffic to a problem that we already have."

The added congestion brought on by new development from the extension may help substantiate the TCA's campaign to build the road through San Onofre State Park. Goldstein feels that the TCA should focus its efforts on environmentally responsible solutions to "alleviate traffic today, not years down the road."

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