The Department of Commerce has stated their interest in holding a public hearing on the Foothill-South toll road extension, disregarding the impotent raging of Transportation Corridor Agencies counsel Robert Thornton. The LA Times reported on the road's construction cost leaping from $875 million to $1.3 billion and that ridership is down on the Foothill-South by "nearly 4 percent." The Army Corps of Engineers has declared that there could still be potential alternatives to the favored route, one which would carve through the Donna O'Neill Land Conservancy and inland San Onofre State Beach, potentially exterminating the Pacific pocket mouse and annihilating any sense of tranquility at the Acjachemen sacred site of Panhe. One has to ask, what hasn't gone wrong for the TCA lately?
In fact there are two nuggets of good news for toll road fans. In a letter dated May 23, 2008, FHWA counsel James D. Ray sent a letter to Undersecretary of Commerce Conrad Lautenbacher citing the urgent need for this traffic-reducing, $875 Million dollar project. But there are a pair of problems.
1) The toll road is clearly a traffic incentive, not a traffic reducer. 2) The TCA has revised their numbers; now the road will cost $1.3 billion, nearly a 50 percent increase.
TCA spokesperson Jennifer Seaton informed the Weekly she had provided the Times with the updated $1.3 billion figure. Seaton cautions that there is no "apples-to-apples comparison" between the two figures, as the new number incorporates environmental mitigation costs not calculated into the initial number. Seaton also warns this is not a "new" number, but merely part of the annual update to the board. Still, add this money to the $1.1 billion in taxpayer dollars the TCA is seeking to help facilitate a merger between its two boards, and we get a number like $2.4 billion. This is disturbingly close to the $2.8 billion the TCA claims it will cost to widen Interstate 5, a number it brandishes like a weapon to demonstrate the ludicrous ideas and expenditures of anyone who opposes them.
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Ray's letter also cites how "the USACE preliminarily determined the TCA preferred alternative would be the [Least Environmentally Damaging Project Alternative] under the Clean Water Act." Unfortunately for Ray, FHWA, TCA and douchebags everywhere, the Corps of Engineers has spoken loud and clear on this issue.
Col. Thomas Magness is the man who makes the final LEDPA call, and he hasn't even reached for the phone yet. Magness had his final word on the matter posted on the Corps' website: "My intent in the letter, as a neutral arbiter in the environmental review, was to make clear that our process has not run its course. There has been no final, formal decision on any of the remaining practicable alternatives. More analysis, public review and comment are needed and are ongoing."
But I have digressed from my nuggets. Recently the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service gave the project an A-OK, saying the project met all federal requirements. Could this be related to disgraceful former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald and her alleged collaborated with developers to eliminate critical habitat distinctions for, among other species, the arroyo toad, which is threatened by the 241? It could be. According to a 2007 Center for Biological Diversity release, "'Habitat loss is the number-one killer of endangered species,' said Michael Senatore, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. 'These species won't survive unless we protect their habitat. Julie MacDonald is an endangered-species Death Star. Her overruling of scientists is inexcusable… The political problems in the Department of Interior run much deeper than MacDonald. The agency has descended into a culture of corruption, the likes of which I've never seen before,' Senatore concluded."
What better incentive could there be to attend a Department of Commerce hearing? See the Army face off against the Highway Administration! Watch the Colonel take on the counsels! Perhaps we might even get to witness another dressing-down of TCA CEO Tom Margro, just like at the Coastal Commission Hearing in Del Mar. If the FHWA's error-laden letter is anything to go by, someone's dress is going down for sure.