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By Kathy Ward
Transportation planners have gotten wiser in recent decades. They no longer build freeways through existing developed cities. That is because the roadway will damage a city, causing neighborhoods to become detached from one another, and economic hardship inevitably follows, along with pollution, noise and visual impacts that could destroy the quality of life of residents.
A city cut in half is a severed community. I-5 is severing our city in half and has caused many issues that have not been resolved 60 years later. In the area of the El Camino bridge, many lots remain undeveloped with chain-link fencing around them.
The bridge itself took out an entire block of development, and it is a dead zone. There is no life there, and the bridge separates El Camino Real in half.
Another freeway would again divide our city in half. Which side will you live on and between what freeways?
Transportation agencies are no longer building freeways through established cities. Last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board voted unanimously to withdraw its support and funding for a 5-mile, $3.2-billion tunnel through El Sereno, South Pasadena and Pasadena to connect the 710 and 210 freeways.
The latest attempt to connect these freeways was a 5-mile tunnel that had a cost of $3.2 billion. Planners wondered, would drivers pay a toll to drive the 5 miles if it saved them 13 minutes? They ultimately decided the project could not be funded.
Instead, the board voted to spend $700 million on a range of transportation fixes to ease congestion, which was the direction the community and local leaders have urged for years.
The vote by the transportation board to cancel the long-planned freeway is significant because it is a departure from relying on new roadways to solve the region’s growing population and transportation demands.
The recent statement by Rancho Mission Viejo Development said they were always supportive of the extension when it was not built into any developed area, but now it is clear to them there is no extension option that does not harm Rancho Mission Viejo or their sister cities. For that reason, said they can no longer support any of the proposed extensions. The Ranch also stated the arterials they have built for their development will be adequate for their 14,000 homes.
Now that TCA has given up on the route around San Clemente and wants to run the toll road right through our city, there are many of us who believe TCA is no longer planning or building roads that provide traffic relief for South Orange County. The stated purpose and need for this freeway is to provide a redundancy for I-5. Going around San Clemente would provide redundancy.
The traffic will only be brought to us and we will funnel even more cars through our city. Our traffic level of service will be worse with a 241 extension.
Three new connection points in Mission Viejo, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente have been added since the last public forum with no process for the public to understand these alignments or to be able to provide comment. I believe TCA is moving ahead of itself in the process and needs to step back and hold an actual public forum to discuss these new alignment connections with I-5.
I do believe TCA should explain the settlement to the public in this meeting, but I disagree with their agenda of environmental “next steps.” For continuity of the public process, these alignments that have sprung up should be presented to the public as they were in public forum No. 2 in October. Not only should questions be taken, TCA should be recording the comments from the public, which they say they welcome. If they do, they should be changing the format of their draft agenda for next Monday and have this forum truly be the open, collaborative process they have been trying to sell.
Let TCA, Orange County Transportation Authority and Caltrans know you disagree with their agenda and that you want to be heard on June 5.
Kathy Ward is the mayor of San Clemente and was elected to City Council in 2014. Ward is also the city’s representative on the Transportation Corridor Agencies board of directors.