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Recap posted below video
By Eric Heinz
The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) hosted its third public forum regarding toll road proposals in South Orange County and San Clemente.
The forum took place Monday, June 5, at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. The McKinney Theater was packed to capacity (406 people), with hundreds more who had to either watch from the overflow rooms or online via the San Clemente Times’ Facebook Live stream.
Two panels discussed topics related to the toll roads: the environmental lawsuit settlement between the TCA and local organizations, which took more than a decade, and the second discussed the roles of the Orange County Transportation Authority, Caltrans and the TCA’s transportation analysts.
Questions were submitted by the public either in person, via the internet or the overflow rooms.
During the first panel, Mike Kraman, the CEO of the TCA; Dan Silver of the Endangered Habitats League; and Richard Katz, described as a settlement discussion participant, explained what the settlement means. In exchange for a $28 million environmental fund, which could be used for a variety of efforts, litigants such as Save San Onofre Coalition and Surfrider Foundation cannot oppose a South Orange County toll road.
Eighteen new proposals have come to light since the lawsuit that prohibits the TCA from building in certain areas of the San Mateo Watershed, Camp Pendleton and San Onofre State Beach. Some of them go straight through San Clemente, while others cut through portions of San Juan Capistrano neighboring areas in order to connect the 241 toll road at its current terminus at Ortega Highway. Early on in the meeting, Kraman explained that the proposals are not set in stone and are preliminary ideas. He started to say, “We may not have all the right proposals,” and before he could finish his point, the audience shouted back, “You don’t.”
Doing nothing is still an option, Silver said.
A theme of being behooved by the state to provide adequate transportation in the area dominated the discussion on the second panel. According to various reports by the agencies, traffic is expected to increase 65 percent by 2035 and therefore, they argue, the need for a north-south toll road is imminent.
TCA conducted an ascertainment study to gather ideas from the public in 2015, and that’s how the proposals were born. The agency has hosted public input forums since 2016 and began project initiation processes in February. The project initiation includes doing biological work and understanding species that are or may be in the area. A report on the initiation is expected to be ready sometime this fall.
The environmental assessment and consulting group Psomas has been targeted by locals who have seen their biologists in the area marking up open space for potential alignments, and most of the concerns are due to the TCA saying they have not started a formal process of toll road construction.
Currently, the TCA’s toll road future timeline will include the start of environmental scoping in October and conclude in February 2018. Between 2018 and 2019, technical studies will be done, and a draft environmental report is expected to be done in 2020.
The TCA anticipates having a proposal ready to be approved by state/federal agencies by 2021.
During the forum, people who could not attend inside held their own rally against the current proposals. On social media, many groups, such as Not My Toll Road and members of the Coalition to Save San Clemente, live-streamed their protest of the toll roads that could go through the city.