241 Toll Road

In November 2016, our 15-year-long battle against the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) came to a close. In a historic settlement, the TCA withdrew their plan to extend the 241 toll road through San Onofre State Beach, endangering critical natural space, wildlife habitat and cultural resources. This hard-fought agreement is truly a victory for our local environment.

Read below to learn more about the reasons why Coastkeeper openly and passionately opposed the project for more than a decade and why we are thrilled to see the TCA prioritize our natural resources.

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Overview

In 2001, The Foothill/Eastern TCA proposed the final toll road project in their Orange County network to extend toll road 241 16-miles from Rancho Santa Margarita to Interstate 5 south of San Clemente at Basilone Road. 

The six-lane toll road would snake through some of Orange County’s last remaining wild habitat and cut through San Onofre State Beach, the Reserve at Mission Viejo and the Donna O’Neill Land Conservancy while threatening endangered species, destroying popular campgrounds, impairing water quality, damaging a sacred Native American land and risking a world famous surfing destination – all to simply construct another toll road. It is for those reasons Coastkeeper and numerous other environmental non-profit organizations opposed the construction of the 241 toll road.

Active Opposition: Coastkeeper's Role

On February 6, 2008 after a public hearing, the California Coastal Commission voted 8-2 to reject the proposed toll road. Coastkeeper voiced our objection to the project at the hearing and the Coastal Commission concluded the proposed project violated the California Coastal Act and the California approved coastal management plan.

TCA appealed to the U.S. Department of Commerce seeking a consistency certification from the federal government, which would permit them to overrule the Coastal Commission and construct the toll road.

The Department of Commerce rejected the consistency certification and concluded that “there is at least one reasonable alternative to the project….[and] that the project is not necessary in the interest of national security.”

Arguments Against the Toll Road

Water Quality Impairment 

Pollution

The construction and daily use of a six-lane toll road in a relatively pristine coastal environment will result in a series of water quality impairments that must be responsibly addressed before any proposal should be seriously considered. The San Mateo watershed is one of the healthiest coastal watersheds in southern California and San Mateo Creek remains the only un-dammed and un-diverted major drainage basin south of Ventura. 

Coastkeeper's Water Monitoring Project

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In 2006, TCA had yet to collect any water samples from the Cristianitos Creek or San Mateo Creek, normally the first step in protecting water quality, before beginning the toll road application process. In order to document the water quality conditions, Coastkeeper collected samples from Cristianitos and San Mateo Creeks, and added San Juan Creek. 

This baseline data played a crucial role in understanding the potential effects of the toll road on surrounding watersheds, such as the discharge of oil, metals, trash and sediment from the toll road’s surface into the creeks.  

Hydrology

TCA’s proposed contouring, construction and paving of a state park in order to develop a six-lane toll road would result in significant changes to the hydrologic function of the San Mateo watershed. Modifying the existing natural drainage channels and creating acres of concrete and asphalt surfaces will increase the velocity of storm water causing stream destabilization, increased erosion and sediment production. Natural systems are fragile and increases in water flow in stream channels are met with exponentially proportionate erosion impacts to the amount of impermeable or disturbed land upstream.

Endangered Species and Habitat Loss

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion, the proposed development area for the 241 extension would destroy acres of dwindling high-quality habitat for critically endangered species.

Some of the most vulnerable species include:

  • Pacific Pocket Mouse
  • Southern Steelhead
  • California Gnatcatcher
  • Least Bells Vireo
  • Arroyo Toad

Coastal Recreational Loss

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San Onofre State Beach is one of California’s most popular recreational areas hosting 2.4 million visitors annually to experience the epicenter of southern California’s surf culture. Trestles, an internationally renowned surf break, is created through a consistent flow of sediment from the mouth of San Mateo Creek. Interfering with this flow may condemn Trestles to the ranks of California’s extinct surf spots.

San Mateo Campground is a low-cost coastal recreational area used by over one hundred thousand people annually and accounts for more than 10 percent of all the coastal campsites within a 50-mile radius. The campground is a critically important coastal access resource and the most popular campground at the state park. The California Department of Parks and Recreation concluded in a study it would likely be forced to close the entire 1,000-acre section (60% of the entire park and 161 sites) if the toll road were constructed. The loss of a low-cost, isolated coastal campground enjoyed by families, surfers and scout troops would be irreplaceable.

Destruction of Cultural Resources 

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The banks of San Mateo Creek were once home to the Acjachemen/Juaneño Village of Panhé, the region’s largest Native American village. Used as a ceremonial and reburial site, the site is currently listed on the Sacred Lands file at the Native American Heritage Commission and is one of seven sites listed in the San Mateo Archaeological National Register District. According to State Archaeologists, the toll road would run through and adjacent to the Village of Panhé and within feet of the cemetery. The Native American Heritage Commission concluded the construction of the toll road would cause irreparable injury and harm to important cultural resources within San Onofre State Beach.

Additional Resources