Toll road agencies will not seek environmental studies to extend State Route 241 past Cow Camp Road

The Foothill/Eastern  Transportation Corridor Agency board of directors oversees the 133, 241 and 261 toll roads. File photo
The Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency board of directors oversees the 133, 241 and 261 toll roads. File photo

By Jim Shilander

Since the federal Department of Commerce and California Coastal Commission rejected the Transportation Corridor Agencies’ proposed extension of State Route 241 south to Interstate 5 near Trestles in 2008, opponents of the proposal have had a wary eye on the body, fearing a renewed effort.

It appears that effort will not come, at least for the time being.

On Tuesday, the TCA announced it will not continue to seek an environmental impact statement in support of the 241’s extension to the Trestles surf break, south of San Clemente. Rather, the agencies will refocus efforts on the Tesoro extension that would lengthen the 241 by five miles, from Oso Parkway in Mission Viejo to the yet-to-be completed Cow Camp Road in San Juan Capistrano.

Michael Kraman, TCA acting chief executive officer, did not rule out a future proposal, but said it would require a new environmental review process to move forward.

“This is a positive step forward that validates our focus on the Tesoro Extension,” Kraman said in a prepared statement.

Currently the Foothill/Eastern and San Joaquin Hills agencies, which oversee the county’s toll road system, including State Routes 73, 133, 241 and 261, have no current plans for anything south of Cow Camp, TCA spokeswoman Lori Olin indicated.

With the announcement, the TCA, in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration, rescinded two 13-year-old notices of intent for the preparation of a federal environmental review. The withdrawal effectively ends the infrastructure project, at least for now.

Opposition to the toll road has been a galvanizing issue for activists in San Clemente and surrounding areas for the last decade, leading to a coalition of environmental and surfing organizations, among others, to oppose a proposal to extend the road near the San Diego County line.

For the San Clemente-based Surfrider Foundation, Tuesday’s announcement was a nod from the TCA that the original project was “not viable and never has been viable,” said Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, the nonprofit’s California Policy Manager.

The TCA will still appeal a 2013 decision against its proposed extension to Cow Camp Road by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. In a 3 to 2 last June, the board rejected a TCA permit application to extend the road east of San Juan Capistrano.

Parts of south Orange County fall under the regional board’s jurisdiction.

The appeal is being reviewed by the state’s Water Resources Control Board. The agency maintains the project’s mitigations meet a “gold standard” for infrastructure projects and the Tesoro extension is still a project of major import.

Sekich said the foundation believes the extension “still doesn’t make sense” and other potential transportation infrastructure improvements could be made, short of extending the 241.

Andrea Papagianis contributed to this report.

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