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Orange County

Majority in O.C. Poll Supports New Tollways

Slightly more than half back building the roads, transportation agency says. The survey shows a slight decline in those in favor from last year.

September 12, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A majority of Orange County residents favor building toll roads, despite environmental concerns over the proposed expansion of the Foothill Transportation Corridor through San Clemente, according to a poll released Thursday by the Transportation Corridor Agencies.

That support declined slightly -- from 56% to 53% -- when those polled were informed of pro and con arguments regarding the road. Post-argument support fell about 5 percentage points from last year.

Still, officials said, the survey confirms there is backing for the agency's expansion plans. "It's great news," said Clare Climaco, an agency spokeswoman, "because we do have a vocal opposition, but what we've shown consistently ... is that the support is there."

Representatives of the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation -- both of which have opposed the proposed expansion -- could not be reached for comment. Both groups hope to block the tollway expansion to save stretches of wildlife habitat.

Sierra Club officials have previously said that the expansion, and the development it would make possible, would result in increased pollution in San Mateo Creek and closures at Trestles beach, the popular surfing spot where the creek flows into the ocean.

The June telephone poll, conducted by Decision Research of San Diego and Washington, surveyed 1,200 randomly chosen registered voters: 500 in San Clemente, 400 in other areas of southern Orange County and 300 in the county's northern and central regions. It was the third year in a row that the agency polled voters on the project, Climaco said.

Climaco said that the survey showed that most residents look favorably on the idea of toll road construction.

"The strong message that comes out," she said, "is that people believe that roads follow development rather than encourage it. People are telling us that developers will build housing wherever they own land, so it's prudent to go ahead and build roads in response to that development."

The plan for the proposed extension -- a 16-mile segment that would send the 241 toll road from Oso Parkway through the outskirts of San Clemente to Interstate 5 -- is undergoing environmental review, Climaco said, and construction could begin in two years.

Among the poll's other findings:

* Support for the project is highest in South County, where 65% of those polled expressed support.

* About 74% of the respondents countywide said that roads can be built to be environmentally safe.

* Of those who have never used one, 60% opposed toll road construction.

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