UPDATE: The TCA Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday, March 12 to further pursue the extension of Los Patrones Parkway—an arterial, untolled route—as part of the efforts to relieve South County traffic, formally removing the possibility of extending the 241 Toll Road through San Clemente.
By Shawn Raymundo
The board of directors for the Transportation Corridor Agencies will meet on Thursday, March, 12, when they’re scheduled to consider nixing any plans of running a toll road through San Clemente.
Last week, Assemblymember Bill Brough, who has staunchly opposed the TCA, having drafted measures to limit its authority, announced that the agencies will instead further pursue extending the new county arterial road, Los Patrones Parkway, down to the San Clemente city limit as part of the ongoing South County Traffic Relief Effort (SCTRE).
The extension, known as Alternative 22 in the SCTRE, would be an un-tolled road alignment plan that connects Los Patrones from Cow Camp Road in Rancho Mission Viejo to Avenida La Pata, running along the east side of the Prima Deschecha Landfill.
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and the TCA have been working on the Relief Effort.
The SCTRE had included a series of proposed routes, including some to extend the 241 Toll Road through San Clemente and connect to Interstate 5—proposals that have drawn vehement rebuke from local residents.
The initial stages of the environmental process to study the proposed 241 Toll Road extensions through San Clemente and parts of San Juan Capistrano began in November, when Caltrans began to accept public comment and review of the SCTRE. The public-comment period closed on Feb. 10 after being open for 94 days.
The recommendation to pursue Alt. 22, the agenda report for the TCA’s Thursday meeting stated, was “based on the public input received as part of the project scoping phase and the preliminary technical data, such as the evaluation of traffic improvements, potential impacts to communities (right-of-way), (and) potential impacts to the natural or built environment.”
During a sit-down interview with the Dana Point Times, Sarah King, media relations manager for the TCA, further explained that the benefits of going with the un-tolled Los Patrones extension “blew out of the water the alternatives that would connect to the 5.”
“So, really, it was a no-brainer for us to move all of those alternatives for any further consideration,” she said.
According to a breakdown of how each alternative was screened, the un-tolled option for Alt. 22 is estimated to be able to reduce vehicle hours per delay, or VHD, on I-5 by 3,270 hours and by 4,520 hours on all other roadways.
In terms of public feedback, the screening summary noted that opposition was ranked as “low” for the un-tolled Alt. 22 proposal. Public opposition for the three proposed routes to extend the 241 through San Clemente was “high,” the summary showed.
According to King, Caltrans received 1,650 comments during the scoping period for the Relief Effort. With the TCA going with Alt. 22, King said she’s hoping it shows the agencies “worked really closely with the community,” listened to the public’s concerns and took them seriously.
“I know at times it seemed liked a really challenging process to go through the public meetings and what have you, but having this go through this formal scoping phase and listening to that public input—I mean 1,600 comments is really overwhelming for a project—and their input helped what alternative we were able to provide our board of directors,” she said.
The city of San Clemente and the TCA have been entrenched in legal battle since 2017, when the city, along with a homeowners association, filed a lawsuit challenging the agencies’ 2016 settlement agreement with environmental agencies that thwarted the plan to extend the 241 south of San Clemente.
A Riverside County judge in late January ruled against the city’s motion to stop the TCA from considering alternative 241-extension routes. In its lawsuit, the city has argued that any route extension connecting the 241 to the I-5 via San Clemente would go against the legislatively intended route of the toll road per the Streets and Highways Code section 541.
Riverside Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia, however, noted in his Jan. 28 ruling that the section of the law states: “Route 241 is from Route 5 south of San Clemente to Route 91 in the City of Anaheim.”
“There’s no requirement or language in the statute that the road bypass San Clemente or that it intersect Interstate 5 south of San Clemente,” the judge stated.
As of this posting, the city had not responded to SC Times’ request for comment on how its lawsuit will proceed in light of the Alt. 22 recommendation.
Brough, whose re-election hopes were dashed last week after coming fourth in the state’s Primary Election, recently introduced Assembly Bill 3331, which proposes to amend section 541 of the highways code in an effort to make it clear that the 241 cannot run through San Clemente.
The state lawmaker had previously introduced a bill to limit the TCA’s authority, preventing it from building new projects and incurring additional debt. The measure, AB 1273, died in committee back in January.
As part of the board meeting on Thursday, the TCA, King pointed out, will recommend collaborating with Caltrans and OCTA in order to execute the Alt. 22 proposal and “conclude the Agency’s efforts to identify solutions for a southerly extension of the 241 Toll Road.”
Such collaboration will entail advancing plans to have the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane on the I-5 extend from Avenida Pico to the San Diego County line, as well as complete the project to widen Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano.
“Well, based on the staff report our board on Thursday will be taking action on, which is their policy to accept that the only alternative to move forward is an un-tolled county road; in the most simplest way, yes,” King said when asked whether the Alt. 22 plan will rule out a toll road entirely.
King also noted that should the board vote to move ahead with Alt. 22, the proposal will still need to go through the environmental phase, which is likely to take up another two to three years and be followed by a design phase before construction.
“So, we’re looking at maybe another seven years out,” before completion, King said. “Seven years, that’s probably a little aggressive.”
The TCA’s board meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at its headquarters in Irvine. The board meeting will be live-streamed online. More information can be found at thetollroads.com.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.