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Orange County

Tollway Plan Hits a Bump

A U.S. Senate panel kills a bid to exempt Foothill South Extension from state law.

November 14, 2002|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

A U.S. Senate committee has scuttled efforts to exempt from state law a controversial proposed toll road in south Orange County that could cross parts of Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and San Onofre State Beach.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday that the Armed Services Committee recently removed wording from a military authorization bill that would have benefited the Foothill South Extension.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies, which operate 51 miles of tollways in Orange County, plan to build the 16.5-mile extension from Mission Viejo to Interstate 5. A variety of proposals are under study, although the preferred alternative goes through Camp Pendleton and San Onofre State Beach.

Had the wording sought by the corridor agency remained, state law could not block the U.S. Navy from granting the toll road an easement through Camp Pendleton.

The highway also would be exempt from state environmental, public health and water quality laws as well as from any future legislation to restrict roads through state parks, such as San Onofre, which is on leased federal property.

"It was special-favor legislation for a toll road that needs to be judged on its own merits," said Bill Corcoran, a regional representative for the Sierra Club, which opposes the tollway project.

The bill containing the exemptions was passed by the House. When it reached the Senate Armed Services Committee, Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) expressed opposition.

They noted the highway's potential effects on San Onofre and on some of the last remaining areas of open space in Southern California, which include habitat for endangered species.

"We can think of no compelling federal interest that justifies eroding California's ability to fully review the economic, social and environmental impacts of a project of this scope," Boxer and Feinstein told committee members.

They pointed out that Gen. J.L. Jones, the Marine Corps commandant, has expressed reservations to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the Foothill South. Jones has not liked the idea of a major road being built on or near Camp Pendleton because it could interfere with military readiness and natural areas on the base. But, he said, the Corps will honor a 1988 commitment to allow one highway through the camp.

Clare Climaco, a spokeswoman for the corridor agencies, said toll agency officials are disappointed that the exemptions were pulled from the bill. She said a route now under study would have to be eliminated if legislation is passed to halt highways through state parks.

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