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By Craig Keshishian
Growing up in San Clemente was as idyllic as a Disney episode—a quaint Main Street, nice folks, great beaches, with an ambience of peace and tranquility.
Well, if our friends at Caltrans and OCTA get their way soon, you can certainly kiss off the “peace and tranquility” part.
What’s now afoot here is a political and economic boondoggle, stemming from Faustian bargain, struck by our local leaders with the Big Freeway Boys (Caltrans and OCTA), ostensibly to keep the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) from extending its tentacles into our backyard, with an alternative for “traffic relief.”
Regrettably, this deal will guarantee neither.
In fact, it’s what we call in southern politics—you can take it from me as a former White House strategist—as the old “okey-doke.”
Let me explain: our well-intentioned local leaders heard our plea to stop the toll road through our town. But the TCA has more arms than an octopus. So, a grand bargain was struck among our local pols, the shovel-ready OCTA, and the county Board of Supervisors.
Sadly, our elected guardians failed to get an actual “wet ink” sign-off from the TCA itself, so I’m left to wonder, as a former lecturer in the law, whether we even have a binding agreement. With a successful court challenge, a toll road scheme can rise from the dead like in a bad zombie movie.
Meanwhile, the Big Freeway Boys have huge plans for us, from Avenida Pico all the way down to the county line. If you enjoy NASCAR and The Indy 500, don’t bother with TV, because the live version will be running through your living room, thanks to their plan to widen the I-5 by two extra lanes.
The Big Freeway Boys say they would like to finish out the HOV lanes to the county line. But here’s the weird part: the expansion stops right there. I’m no traffic engineer, but if you create two extra lanes, then choke them up a few miles down the road, aren’t you creating a natural bottleneck?
I remember that when we had a bottleneck like that in the past, frustrated motorists hopped off, flooding local surface streets like ants, just to escape. That’s going to happen again.
The previous project, the six-mile jog from San Juan Creek Road to Pico, was $230 million, so I’m wondering what the three-mile extension would be priced in 2022 dollars. Frankly, I think we’re better off just fixing the streets and bridges around the OC, then treating the whole town to a Mexican cruise with the savings.
Once the bridge-breaking starts, which will be nightly, dig out those earmuffs from last year’s ski trip.
I actually saved the best part for last: burrowed deep in Big Freeway Boys’ schematic is a “transportation demand management” option, which includes possible “tolled lanes,” priced for surging traffic, like you see in LA and North County San Diego.
If you want to dodge all this, please reach out to Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, State Sen. Patricia Bates and Mayor Gene James and tell them to stop the Big Dig before it starts. Our elected leaders and transportation officials breathed life into this deal, and they can, hopefully, still snuff it out.
Craig Keshishian was a White House staff member during the Reagan Administration, working on political strategy and speechwriting. The San Clemente resident, who graduated from San Clemente High in 1977, is now a political commentator on TV and radio.