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Tollway Ruling Could Come at Hearing Today : Transportation: A federal judge is to say if work may begin on San Joaquin Hills route.

September 07, 1993|JEFFREY A. PERLMAN | TIMES URBAN AFFAIRS WRITER

SANTA ANA — A federal judge today may decide if construction will proceed on the San Joaquin Hills tollway--and if so, where along the 17.5-mile route.

A hearing on a preliminary injunction sought by environmentalists opposed to the $1.1-billion project is scheduled for 3 p.m. before U.S. District Judge Linda McLaughlin in Santa Ana.

Two weeks ago the same judge ordered a temporary halt in construction pending further rulings in the case, which focuses on the adequacy of the project's environmental reports.

Rather than bar all construction pending a full trial on the merits of the case, however, McLaughlin has asked attorneys for both sides to propose certain areas were construction might occur without causing irreparable environmental damage.

The San Joaquin Transportation Corridor Agency, which oversees the tollway project, is expected to propose today that construction occur on about two-thirds of the route, leaving out Laguna Greenbelt areas, including Laguna Canyon. Some environmentalists want to see the road pass over Laguna Canyon Road without having any interchange there.

In addition, the Natural Resources Defense Council, representing several Orange County environmental groups, is expected to argue that construction--if allowed at all--should be confined to the four-mile Aliso Viejo segment between Moulton Parkway and El Toro Road.

It's the Aliso Viejo segment that was graded heavily by developers as a condition of their permits for new housing construction in the area. The land was graded there before corridor agency officials gained title to the tollway's path.

Natural Resources Defense Council attorneys have submitted briefs, however, arguing that allowing any construction will give the project momentum that would be difficult to turn around later.

Tollway officials, meanwhile, said in their briefs that the current court delay is costing about $250,000 a day in interest on construction bonds and other expenses.

If a preliminary injunction is granted, construction could be delayed for six months. If environmentalists ultimately prevail at a full trial and sections of the environmental impact reviews have to be redone, the delay could be much longer; some project opponents hope that this will make the tollway too expensive to build.

Construction of the road, which will carry a toll of $2, is scheduled to be completed in 1997.

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