Toll Road Rage: Polls and Tolls

Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics

Illustration by Matt BorsThe more you learn, the more you realize you'll never know. The more you learn about the Transportation Corridor Agencies' (TCA's) plan to extend the Foothill-South Toll Road into San Clemente, the more you realize you want to be violently and copiously sick.

The TCA's fifth annual Public Opinion Survey drives this point home, demonstrating that educating people about the road actually increases opposition to the project.

Of course, that's not what the TCA says. In its Aug. 11 press release on thetollroads.com ("Public support strong, steady to complete 241 Toll Road"), the TCA boasts it polled 1,200 residents from San Clemente, South County (all cities south of Irvine outside San Clemente), and central OC (Anaheim, Orange, Tustin, Santa Ana and Yorba Linda) and that the results indicate "nearly 60 percent of Orange County residents support plans to complete the last segment of the Foothill (241)."

Yet the choice of the infinitive "to complete" is significant: everybody wants to complete their punishment, but nobody wants to extend it. The TCA uses the word "complete" 10 times; elsewhere, it's more honest, using the word "extend" just once to describe the agency's final solution: extending the Foothill Toll Road from its current terminus in Rancho Santa Margarita through San Onofre State Park in San Clemente. On the bullshit-o-meter, it's a perfect 10-to-1 ratio.

That plan has generated a backlash among locals, so the TCA's revelation that a majority of residents supports the extension is a victory for the feckless road builders. Or so it might seem: in addition to monkeying with words, TCA likes to creatively interpret numbers. A closer look suggests that the more they know about the extension, the less likely residents are to support it. A draft of the survey reviewed by the Weekly shows pollsters presented residents with bite-sized arguments for and against the project; reading each at a leisurely pace takes about 30 seconds. After reading the arguments for and against, the pollsters gauged what they call "informed" opinion. And indeed, just like the press release title says, support does seem to hold steady—up by 1 percent in San Clemente and 2 percent in central OC. But support falls 6 percent in the remainder of South County. And get this: opposition to the extension rises 4 percent in San Clemente—and shoots up dramatically, 13 percent, in the rest of the county.

Where did all the opponents come from? After hearing even the briefest of arguments for and against, the undecideds decided: jeepers!

If this survey is an indicator of genuine public opinion, half the county is unaware of the 241 extension plan, and they're likely to hate it when provided with the tiniest bit of information.

 
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