City officials said Tuesday that residents should not be upset about a 1.3-mile section of Newport Coast Drive that will become part of a toll road in 1997.
Councilman Phil Sansone said the San Joaquin Hills toll road was always planned to extend to the Corona del Mar Freeway by using the same right of way now occupied by a portion of Newport Coast Drive.
Some people think that a 50-cent toll affecting access to the shortened Newport Coast Drive is a bad idea. "I can't imagine the people in Corona del Mar standing for this, since it will turn all the traffic back into Corona del Mar," said Carolyn Wood, president of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, whose members oppose the entire San Joaquin Hills project.
Residents have been able to use Newport Coast Drive, long planned as an alternative route for coast-bound traffic, since it opened last year between MacArthur Boulevard near John Wayne Airport and Coast Highway. The route bypasses Newport Center and Corona del Mar.
"When Newport Coast Drive opened, people loved the road," said Dawn McCormick, a spokeswoman for the Irvine Co., which was required to build the road. "It serves as a wonderful bypass for people who are coming up from South County to go to the airport and UC (Irvine). (But) once the corridor gets built, people will be using that."
Officials predict that the toll road will carry 80,000 cars a day when it opens.
Though a section of Newport Coast Drive will become a toll road, drivers will be able to use another route that will be constructed while the San Joaquin Hills tollway is built, tollway spokesman Mike Stockstill said. He said Ford Road will be realigned and will extend to intersect with the part of Newport Coast Drive that will remain toll-free.
"The total confusion is the fact that nobody has brought up the new Ford Road," Sansone said.
But Wood argued: "You're not going to go up there and take Ford Road south to go to MacArthur. It doesn't make any sense."
She said residents will not be well-served by the new roads. "They're not going to be able to get people to use a road if it doesn't go where they want it to go," she said.
Councilman John W. Hedges said he was pleased that an alternative route will remain. "I definitely feel there should be a way to travel from (Coast Highway) to MacArthur without having to pay a toll."
Construction on the San Joaquin Hills tollway is scheduled to begin this year, with an opening date in 1997. The 17.5-mile, $1-billion tollway will extend the Corona del Mar Freeway from the John Wayne Airport area to Interstate 5 near San Juan Capistrano.
"The (tollway) will be a much faster way to get out of the South County," said Newport Beach Public Works Director Benjamin Nolan. Nolan said he couldn't understand the public outcry about the toll section of Newport Coast Drive.
"I'm sure some people were caught off guard, but if that happened, it was probably from not being fully involved in the project," he said.
Councilman John C. Cox Jr. said it is inaccurate to say there will be a toll on Newport Coast Drive because the section that will be tolled was never designed to be a major, toll-free arterial road. Newport Coast Drive was supposed to intersect the tollway's path and proceed north to the planned extension of Ford Road. Newport Coast Drive now follows the tollway's path for a short distance, as a temporary measure.
"That section was built with the complete knowledge that the (tollway) would be built on top of that," he said. Cox said the toll issue has been "blown completely out of proportion."
The Irvine Co. has received no complaints about the toll section, McCormick said. She said the company is revising the disclosure statements for potential buyers in the 9,432-acre Newport Coast resort. McCormick said the company had already disclosed the existence of the tollway but wants to be more explicit about tolls.
Hugh Fitzpatrick, in charge of transportation planning at the Irvine Co., said the company has always been aware that a section of Newport Coast Drive would become a toll road. The company was required to build the road as a condition of approval for the Newport Coast resort.