Bill to limit Orange County toll road agencies’ power is dead, but the fight’s not over for San Clemente

by in News

San Clemente officials’ hopes for legislation to block a proposed 241 toll road extension have been dashed, but they’re not giving up and in fact may open a new front in their battle with the agencies that operate toll roads in eastern and southern Orange County.

A bill from Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, would have barred the Transportation Corridor Agencies – which oversee the 73, 133, 241 and 261 toll roads – from issuing new debt or forming a new entity to build additional toll roads. But with the bill stalled in a state Senate committee and Chávez set to leave office because of term limits, it’s not expected to move forward.

The Senate transportation committee chairman suggested San Clemente leaders try to work out their differences with toll road officials, but so far they’ve been unable to secure a meeting with TCA CEO Michael Kraman, City Councilwoman Kathy Ward said.

Toll road agencies spokesman Jeff Corless said their officials have invited San Clemente to participate and will continue to do so as part of a “robust regional outreach effort.”

But it’s unclear how fruitful any discussions would be, considering San Clemente officials are suing the TCA, alleging the agencies violated state law by refusing to turn over public records city officials requested.

And now a new fight appears to be brewing. Tuesday night, City Attorney Scott C.Smith was expected to make public a July 19 letter he wrote to TCA and Caltrans officials challenging their plan to jointly study up to nine possible projects intended to improve north-south traffic flow in south county.

A draft of the proposed study suggests several alternatives to connect the 241 to I-5 and projects that would add either general-use or carpool and toll lanes to the 5 from the 405 interchange to the San Diego County line.

Smith’s letter contends the draft is inadequate and vague, that it didn’t include enough public input, and that the TCA lacks the authority to participate in studying or building the proposed projects.

“This entire last year and a half, they’ve been trying to drum up support and tell people the need for a toll road,” but haven’t provided officials in San Clemente – which the 241 extension could run through – with cost estimates, detailed routes for an extension or traffic projections, Ward said.

Corless said the agencies have been transparent, publishing all relevant documents on getmovingoc.com where they are publicly available.

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As to why toll road officials would push so hard to build more roads, Ward said she believes agency officials don’t want to disband as they were was intended to after building several specific freeways.

“I think they’re doing it so that the agency can stay alive and continue,” she said.

Corless disagreed, saying the TCA “has a decades-long, proven track record of developing transportation infrastructure through private-sector, open-market toll revenue bonds, instead of using tax dollars to plan, design, finance and construct complete highways in Orange County that would have never been built otherwise.”

San Clemente Mayor Tim Brown said the city will continue to pursue a resolution to its concerns both in the courts and in Sacramento.

Toll roads officials expect to begin soliciting early next year public input on the proposal for what options should be studied.