Monday, Aug. 11, 2008 | In a column entitled “Scandal at San Onofre,” the writer Serge Dedina scandalously ignored the facts and regurgitated local myths from the outdated playbook of the anti-toll road coalition about the proposed extension of State 241.

The proposed route from inland Orange County to connect with the east side of Interstate 5 south of San Clemente at Basilone Road on Camp Pendleton represents the final, vital link in a regional transportation system that was approved in 1981. The route was chosen from 43 options as safest for the environment, watershed, wildlife, campers, surfing and the beaches. Completion of this 16-mile stretch is critical to the continued growth of the San Diego and Orange County economies, which rely so heavily on the flow of commerce and tourism from throughout Southern California and beyond.

The writer mostly ranted about his issues with electronic surveillance, energy policy, human rights and the war on Iraq which he then incongruously linked to two favorite myths of the toll road opponents that the extension would both destroy one of the most popular state parks in California and degrade a surfing site. These myths and others have been clearly disproven by studies from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Department of Fish & Game, the EPA, the Federal Highway Administration and a world-renowned oceanographer and expert on the California Coast.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion that the road will not jeopardize the existence of any endangered species. The report dismissed the “unsubstantiated assertions” made by the Coastal Commission staff. The alignment crosses a little-used inland subunit of San Onofre State Beach Park on the east side of I-5 almost a mile from the beach. The three most popular campgrounds in the park parallel the west edge of Interstate 5, far from the 241 route. Only 5 percent of all campers use the inland site, preferring the three coastal settings instead. The truth is all campsites will stay open during and after construction; none are lost.

An independent peer review of reports concerning the 241 Toll Road and surfing conditions concluded that the project will have no impact on surfing or wave formation. Richard J. Seymour, Ph.D., research engineer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and noted consultant in coastal oceanography, conducted the review. “No substantial change, either positive or negative, to surfing quality would result from the project,” Seymour stated in his report. Seymour’s fields of research include wave mechanics, wave generation, near shore processes, sediment transport mechanisms and cross-shore transport.

Environmental preservation and the maintaining our state parks are of utmost concern to the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA). In addition to pursuing a sensitive design and route to protect wildlife, habitats and parkland, the TCA authorized the payment of $100 million to the state park system for mitigation and to improve the state park at San Onofre, which along with other parks faces future issues because of the state budget deficit.

Beyond protecting parks and the environment, the 241 offers some 21 million in the region the best solution for reducing congestion and avoiding daily gridlock on I-5. It is the most fiscally responsible. The 241 Toll Road will be paid for by users who choose to drive on it. The 241 is exactly what Governor Schwarzenegger had in mind when he called for more public-private partnerships to solve infrastructure issues which have stacked up monumentally as the state deficit grew. This is why the Governor issued a powerful letter supporting the extension.

The 241 will improve public safety by serving as an alternate evacuation route from both San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and Camp Pendleton. It will also allow new access to the northwest quadrant of the Marine base where entrance was limited during the October fires after the forced closure of Interstate 5.

Ensuring that California has world-class infrastructure is essential to the region’s economic competitiveness and our quality of life. Easing congestion along this lone coastal artery is critical to keeping both commerce and people flowing and giving back to commuters some of the time spent suffering in gridlock on Interstate 5. And it can be done in an environmentally sensitive way.

The opposition — a few special interest groups — continues to try and manipulate public opinion and the media with misinformation, emotional appeals and myths. The facts are clearly on the side of the 241 as are a majority of residents of Orange County and San Diego County, which we believe provide clear evidence for the U.S. Department of Commerce to approve the extension before the end of this year.

Tom Margro is the CEO of the Transportation Corridor Agencies

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