New poll shows mixed bag on 241 toll extension

Photo by Craig Coppola/Courtesy Surfrider.

A poll released this morning shows that OC voters are generally in favor of more toll roads, but not when they go through protected state parks.

The poll, which was financed by the California State Parks Foundation, asked 400 voters from each of the county's five supervisorial districts several questions in hopes of measuring opinions about toll roads and, in particular, a proposed extension of the 241 Toll Road through San Onofre State Park. The group that funded the study is opposed to the extension.

This latest skirmish in the battle of the polls contradicts polls taken by the Transportation Corridor Agencies several times in the past which concluded—surprise!— people actually do want the road completed. Those polls have been criticized for only asking the question of South Orange County residents.

Elizabeth Goldstein, State Parks Foundation president, said although other polls have been done by the Transportation Corridor Agencies, this poll is the best one. "This is the most thoroughgoing and unbiased poll put forward," she said.

The results will be included in a presentation by the parks foundation, an environmental coalition created in 1969, at a hearing before the California Coastal Commission on Oct. 11. The hearing is regarding whether the proposed toll road extension violates the Coastal Act, a set of laws passed in the 1970s designed to protect the state's roughly 1,100 miles of coast.

In a conference call with the Weekly and several other local news organizations, California opinion researchers Jan van Lohuizen and David Binder said that most Orange County residents weren't very informed about the proposed toll extension, but when presented with details about their construction on protected lands, they were opposed.

Of those polled, 41 percent had never even heard of the plan, while 58 percent had. At first, most people actually responded favorably to the idea of the 241 extension, with 52 percent supporting the plan. However, once they were informed that "it would be six lanes and would go through San Mateo Canyon and come very close to Trestles Beach," 66 percent were opposed or strongly opposed.

Orange County voters also said they generally support the building of toll roads and they do believe the roads relieve traffic congestion, 53 percent and 50 percent respectively, with 25 percent answering the latter question "I don't know."

However, when asked if they generally supported construction of toll roads in state parks, 70 percent were against the idea.

On Sept. 28, the TCA offered to sweeten the pot if they could just finally build the damn thing, with an offer of $100 million to fund improvements to the California State Parks System. Construction, which was supposed to have begun already, has now been pushed to at least 2011.

The offer, which the agency notes is about one-fourth of the annual California State Parks operating budget, specifies the money could be used extend the lease at San Onofre State Beach Park and Trestles Beach. The land is owned by the Marine Corps and the lease expires in 14 years.

The original lease of $1 for 50 years apparently can't be renewed under current federal law; a similar lease is estimated to cost $70 million, according to the TCA.


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