Ahh, the toll roads. On par with the haunted school bus of Black Star Canyon, they exist as one of Orange County’s greatest mysteries. Why would elected officials fight for the construction of an expensive transit project that their constituents despise?
Currently, the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA)–the quasi-government agency charged with building the toll road–has been attempting to complete the southern extension of the SR-241 toll road to the I-5 freeway in San Clemente. The TCA calls this initiative the “South County Traffic Relief Effort.” However, there’s serious doubt that the expansion will actually relieve any South County traffic whatsoever.
In March 2018, the IBI Group–an engineering and policy group retained by the city of San Clemente–released a report on the SR-241 that found that extending the toll road would do nothing to relieve traffic in south Orange County. In fact, extending the toll road would actually increase vehicle miles traveled and vehicle time delayed in traffic.
“Utilizing the adopted countywide traffic model and socio-economic data, it is forecast that building the SR-241 Toll Road Extension would not result in significant relief of traffic congestion in the region, Mike Arizabal of IBI Group told GlobalNewsWire on March 1.
According to data from the OCTA, the proposed extension of the SR-241 would cost $2 billion to build, and would only serve 10,000 to 15,000 drivers daily. Meanwhile, expanding the already existing La Pata and Los Patrons roads–as originally planned by the county’s 2040 plan–would be, “just as effective for regional mobility at a much lower cost than toll road extension.”
“The numbers don’t lie,” said San Clemente Council member and TCA board member Kathy Ward. “Why would anyone spend billions of dollars to fund a new toll road when it would actually make traffic worse for South Orange County when it can actually be improved for less than 10 percent of the cost of this new toll road?”
Ever since the original SR-241 plan to extend south of Basilone Rd. on the San Diego-Orange County border was abandoned due to concerns about the environmental impact on the Trestles and San Onofre watershed, the TCA has scrambled for a way to complete the extension. The TCA has proposed a handful of ways to connect the toll road to the I-5 freeway in San Clemente. Three proposed extensions (see routes marked 13, 14, and 17 on the maps below) would build directly through established communities in San Clemente. Residents have rallied against the proposed extensions with a petition created by the group, “Not My Toll Road” who have found a powerful friend in Assemblymember Rocky Chavez (R-San Clemente) whose bill AB 382 seeks to limit the power of the TCA to expand the toll road.
“There is no need for duplicative, wasteful government agencies in Orange County,” Chavez told GlobalNewsWire. “AB 382 allows the TCA to follow its own advice from 1996 and simply go out of business. The TCA hasn’t built a new road in over 20 years, yet it continues to collect hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to pay high-priced consultants for unnecessary new toll roads that will probably never be built.”
Despite the IBI Group’s mounds of evidence disproving the efficacy of extending the SR-241 and resistance by the community, the TCA still wants the toll road. In fact, they’re the only who wants to complete the toll road. Why? Because the TCA, which was created as a temporary agency to build the toll road, boasted a record high $312 million in revenues in 2017.
The fact is that the toll road extension has become a golden goose for TCA executives, and board members. No matter how ineffective this $2 billion dollar project will be for Orange County citizens, the TCA will continue trying to complete the SR-241 as long as they boast record profits at the expense of taxpayers. We reached out to the TCA for comment on the IBI study, but have not received a call back.