YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Unions, Firms Back Route of O.C. Toll Road

A coalition wants to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to halt construction of an extension across San Onofre State Beach.

July 12, 2006|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

A coalition of Orange County's major employers, businesses and labor groups took legal action Tuesday to support the extension of a toll road through San Onofre State Beach.

The group is asking a court's permission to intervene in a pending lawsuit that seeks to block the project. Whether the permission will be granted will be decided at a hearing in October.

The group's effort to support the toll road agency was announced at a news conference in Santa Ana. Business leaders acknowledged that the controversial 16-mile planned extension had raised strong environmental concerns but said the project would create jobs and a healthy regional economy.

The state and a dozen environmental groups have sued to block the project, which they say would harm the environment at one of the state's landmark surf spots.

But business leaders said the alternative was worse.

"Extending the toll road is critical to the area's economy," said Lucy Dunn, chief executive for the Orange County Business Council.

"The alternative is to destroy hundreds of homes" for a new road alignment that would cut through several southern Orange County communities, she said.

The coalition includes the business council, Los Angeles and Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council, black and Latino chambers of commerce and southern Orange County chambers of commerce.

Ruben Smith, an attorney representing the coalition, has asked the court for permission to join the case.

He said labor groups and businesses had a stake in whether the toll road was constructed.

In February, the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency in Orange County approved extending the toll road from Oso Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita to Interstate 5 at Basilone Road, south of San Clemente.

But a month later, state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and environmental organizations sued in state court in San Diego attempting to block construction and preserve the popular park.

"TCA chose to build this road without evaluating its toll on a state park that is an affordable recreational resource for working families in the region," said Teresa Schilling, Lockyer's spokeswoman.

"Had TCA employed vision and leadership, we could be breaking ground on a project that meets regional transportation needs without destroying a state treasure," she said.

Toll road officials have said an extension is the only option that can reduce traffic in the south county area. They said congestion on Interstate 5 was projected to increase 60% by 2025.

Widening I-5 would destroy hundreds of homes and businesses and eliminate jobs, the toll agency has said.

At the news conference, labor leaders said they did not want to appear insensitive to the environment. But consideration of jobs and the economy may outweigh putting a toll road close to a state beach.

"These are tough choices," Dunn said. "But you can't live in an environment where you can get your cake and eat it too."

Toll road critics said there were alternative ideas and routes avoiding the state park.

"I think their argument sets up a false choice, because it's not a choice between transportation or the park, or businesses and the park," said Sara Feldman, Southern California director of the California State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit group.

Last month, the toll road agency won a small victory when Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) and others inserted language in the state budget prohibiting the agency from building the toll road through San Onofre State Beach and a conference committee of senators and Assembly members voted it down.

Los Angeles Times Articles