Lowers, a fragile wave worth the fight in Southern California. Photo: Ellis

The 241 Toll Road extension just won't die.

It's been four and a half years since state and federal authorities shelved the Orange County Transportation Corridor Authority’s (TCA) plans for a toll road that would connect Route 241 with Interstate-5 in southern Orange County. But last week the TCA held a behind-closed-doors secret vote and, free from any public comments, approved construction of a 5-mile section of the controversial road. If built, the freeway would cover much of San Onofre State Beach in asphalt, and would choke off sand flow from nearby San Mateo creek that stabilizes the cobblestone reef at Lowers.

After the project was rejected by state and federal governments in 2008, TCA chairman and 241 extension supporter Jerry Amante told the Los Angeles Times: "we don't intend to just throw our hands in the air and say, 'Oh well.'" It seems that the TCA has made good on its threat.

By approving just the first 5-mile section of the road, from Oso Parkway southward, the TCA appears to be trying to circumvent its previous rejection. Building the project in piecemeal may be TCA's attempt to side-step the environmental impact concerns voiced by, among other groups, the Surfrider Foundation and the National Resources Defense Council. It's far easier to mitigate the effects of a five-mile section of road than the originally proposed 16-mile stretch of highway.

The National Resources Defense Council's Joel Reynolds points out that this "segmenting" approach is illegal according to state and federal precedent, because once the first section of road is built, later decisions by government officials about extending the toll road would invariably be influenced by the already-existing five-mile extension of the 241 toll road.

By voting in secrecy, the TCA has contradicted its earlier assertions that the group would always allow for public participation in any future decisions about the toll road project. The TCA's own Environmental Director was recorded on video in 2012 explaining that "we are not required legislatively to have that [public discussion] process, but because of the controversy that this project has had, we're going beyond the requirement and we're having a public review period."

Apparently that courtesy has been revoked.

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