IRVINE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--After nearly two years of the Transportation Corridor Agencies’ (TCA) ongoing efforts to obtain a permit to improve mobility within South Orange County and the region, staff of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board) has recommended denial of TCA’s permit application to extend the 241 Toll Road from its current terminus at Oso Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita to Cow Camp Road in San Juan Capistrano, also known as the Tesoro Extension.
Despite specific direction from the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) to adopt detailed findings that explain a legal and factual basis for denial of the permit application, the findings included in the Regional Board’s order fail to comply with the State Board’s clear direction.
TCA continues to contend that there is no lawful basis for the Regional Board to deny TCA’s application to extend the 241 Toll Road five miles as described in the permit application submitted in 2012.
It is disappointing that the Regional Board is refusing to abide by the State Board’s order. Denying the extension of a roadway that is desperately needed to alleviate traffic congestion does not solve the region’s growing transportation problems. TCA is determined to find the right solution to solve mobility challenges facing South Orange County residents and commuters, and strengthen its partnerships with stakeholders in a way that addresses mobility challenges and minimizes environmental impacts.
TCA submitted a letter to the Regional Board addressing the following points:
- Failure to provide reasoning – The Regional Board’s concerns focus primarily on former alignments that are not part of TCA’s existing application. The Regional Board fails to provide their reasoning for denying the Tesoro Extension permit application.
- Independent utility – The Tesoro Extension can function to provide traffic relief independent of any future extensions; therefore, it has independent utility and should be judged on its own merits.
- Detailed findings do not exist – The State Board’s Order required the Regional Board to adopt detailed findings explaining why they would be limited in their ability to exercise their full authority in the future to restrict waste water discharges from future extensions of the 241 Toll Road. Detailed findings do not exist in the Regional Board’s tentative order.
- Environmental impact reduced – The minimal impact of the Tesoro Extension (0.40 acre) has been reduced further to 0.29 acre due to grading in the area that has been authorized by the Regional Board. The reduction of impact by more than 25 percent is significant new evidence that should be considered by the Regional Board.
- Setting dangerous precedence – The Regional Board is on the precipice of setting a dangerous precedent that could prevent future infrastructure projects throughout the state from proceeding in stand-alone phases. As documented by several transportation agencies throughout California, numerous transit and highway projects are constructed in phases due to funding or traffic needs. These projects would have never been able to begin construction under the limitations that the Regional Board is considering for the Tesoro Extension.
- The future of the 241 Toll Road – TCA acknowledges and respects the authority of the Regional Board to restrict water discharges of any future extension of the 241 Toll Road. Based on this fact, there is no reason for the Regional Board to deny the Tesoro Extension permit.
On June 19, 2013, the Regional Board’s staff recommended approval of TCA’s permit application to extend the 241 Toll Road 5.5 miles. At a hearing prior to the vote, the Regional Board’s technical staff testified that TCA’s water quality measures proposed in the project met the “gold standard” for protecting water quality. The mitigation measures included installation of a filtration system to treat all runoff water, creating vegetative swales and implementing a system to ensure both water quality and water flow rate would mimic the natural environment.
In a 3-2 vote, the appointed board members rejected the recommendation of the Regional Board’s professional staff, despite board members recognizing the toll road extension complied with water quality standards. TCA appealed the Regional Board’s decision to the State Board. The State Board stated, “It is unclear from the transcript that concerns about water quality impacts resulting directly from the Tesoro Extension did not form the basis for the San Diego Water Board’s decision . . . we are left with no conclusion as to why they voted to not approve the TCA Application.”
The State Board concluded that the Regional Board violated state law by failing to adopt findings that explained the legal and factual basis for their decision. The State Board found that for the Regional Board to deny the application, they are required to adopt “detailed findings” explaining “why the Regional Board is limited in its ability to exercise its full authority in the future” to restrict discharges from future extensions of the 241 Toll Road. The State Board ordered this requirement in response to testimony from various transportation agencies throughout California that it is standard practice to permit and construct transportation projects in phases – exactly as proposed by TCA.
The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) are two joint powers authorities formed by the California legislature in 1986 to plan, finance, construct and operate Orange County’s 67-mile public toll road system. Fifty-one miles of the system are complete, including the 73, 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads. TCA continues to meet the region’s growing need for congestion-free transportation alternatives.