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241 Toll Road expansion debate to continue

Opponents and backers to the project will remain at odds until Jan. 7.

BY Tina BorgattaPublished: September 23, 2008 10:56 AM

Federal officials have until Jan. 7 to consider the eight hours of public testimony they heard Monday from both sides of the proposed 241 Toll Road southern expansion, but some groups are already putting their spin on the hearing.

At issue is whether the 16-mile expansion, which was shot down by the California Coastal Commission in February, is a matter of national importance. And in a news release issued just hours after the hearing ended, the Save San Onofre Coalition, which opposes the toll road expansion, declared proponents failed to meet the criteria for a federal override.

A number of state and local political heavyweights joined the crowd of attendees at the hearing, held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, including state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, whose comments were the focus of the Save San Onofre Coalition news release.

“There is no compelling national interest to override the California Coastal Commission … and the toll road’s adverse impacts outweigh the purported and questionable benefits of this project,” Lockyer told the Secretary of Commerce panel.

Orange County Fire Authority Chief Chip Prather told the panel that the expansion would serve as an important link in the county’s fire defense system and would aid in the mobility of emergency crews and residents in the event of an evacuation.

Whether to expand the 241 Toll Road from Oso Parkway to Interstate 5 near San Clemente has sparked a fierce emotional debate and divided the county – even some families. Tony Moiso, whose family owns Rancho Mission Viejo, spoke in favor of the plan, while Richard O’Neill, a member of the same ranching family, stands firmly against the toll road project.

Proponents say the expansion is needed to relieve freeway congestion and keep traffic – and commerce – in Orange County at a healthy flow. Opponents say it could have devastating environmental impacts, especially to the popular surfing spot, Trestles, near the intersection with Interstate 5.