After a blistering report concluded that a planned toll road through San Onofre State Beach would violate the state's coastal act, the California Coastal Commission has agreed to postpone its decision on the road at the request of its proponents.
The much-anticipated Coastal Commission hearing to determine whether the planned tollway complies with environmental law, originally set for Thursday, will be held in February.
The Irvine-based Transportation Corridor Agencies requested the delay to give tollway officials more time to respond to the commission staff report, which concluded that the Foothill South tollway route violates the California Coastal Act.
Released last week, the analysis recommends that the commission reject certifying the $875-million project because it would violate sections of the act designed to protect endangered species, wetlands and recreational resources.
A finding that the planned Foothill South tollway complies with the law is required before the state can approve the road.
"The report has 236 pages and there are almost as many pages of attachments," said Jennifer Seaton, a TCA spokeswoman. "We need time to prepare a response and to review other information provided to us by other agencies."
The controversial tollway would run 16 miles from Oso Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita to Interstate 5 south of San Clemente. Portions of the six-lane turnpike would cross the Donna O'Neill Land Conservancy and the northern half of San Onofre, including a marine estuary within the park.
Tollway officials say the Foothill South, billed as the final link in the county's toll road network, is needed to relieve future congestion on Interstate 5 through southern Orange County and to accommodate planned housing in the area. They say the route would be the least harmful to the environment of eight options studied and does not require hundreds of condemnations to obtain right-of-way.
Opponents of the project say it will destroy wildlife habitat, archaeological sites, unspoiled wetlands and recreational opportunities in San Onofre, one of the most popular destinations in the state park system.
"We are hopeful that the TCA will come back with a new proposal that eliminates the impacts to the park and coastal areas," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation.