State Park Scare Tactics 2

The Southern California Association of Governments has issued a warning that the California Coastal Commission's veto of the 241 (Foothill-South) toll road extension could spell doom for our air quality. Or at least our air quality credits.

It's hard to imagine how a road which would increase cars on all our roads, encourage development, foster industrial as well as commercial complexes and require extensive construction just to be built could possibly have a positive impact on air quality. Still, according to SCAG:

A letter sent to Orange County transportation planners by the Southern California Assn. of Governments warns that if the Foothill South tollway is not built, another project must be substituted in SCAG's Regional Transportation Plan. Otherwise, the region runs the risk of violating federal emissions standards and losing funding, because projects not included in the plan are ineligible for state and federal dollars.

The 16-mile turnpike that would have cut through San Onofre State Beach was designated as a transportation control measure because it would have promoted carpool use and provided emission credits, said Hasan Ikhrata, SCAG's executive director.

Violating emissions standards? How is this possible? It seems there are these magic doohickeys called "air emission credits". As David Reyes succinctly puts it in the Times:

The region receives air emission credits for increasing the number of people in vehicles on freeways. Though there is a carpool lane on the I-5, it doesn't extend to the county line -- it ends in San Juan Capistrano. The average vehicle occupancy for the I-5 is 1.1 people per car, compared with about 1.5 persons for the proposed toll road, Ikhrata said.

The TCA's claim that their project would reduce emissions "defies all logic" according to one response to their Environmental Impact Report.

Back in April 2006, the Weekly reported on how despite fully a third of the 241 extension falling within San Diego County, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) hadn't been involved in the process. This, despite the fact that the 241 extension would bisect the inland portion of San Onofre State Beach, one of the most-visited parks in the State Park system and surely as bright a jewel as any San Diego County has to offer. Here's what SANDAG representatives had to say then:

Fully a third of [the] proposed extension falls within San Diego County, but that county’s officials have had “little to no involvement” in the project, according to Troy Anderson, spokesman for the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG

“We really haven’t had any part in the process,” says Bill Horn, a San Diego County supervisor whose district includes San Onofre State Beach. “There’ve been no public hearings, no notifications; at least District 5 hasn’t. If it’s gone through SANDAG, I haven’t seen it.”

So SCAG gave SANDAG the cold shoulder. This is starting to feel like a geometry word problem, complete with plenty of obtuse angles. SCAG's entire argument is weakened by the fact that the TCA would have a hard time getting emission reduction credits for the 241. According to the Oracle of Wikipedia:

All commonly accepted ERCs in the United States must meet each of five criteria before they can be certified by the relevant regulatory authority as an ERC. Namely, the emission reduction must be real, permanent over the period of credit generation, quantifiable, enforceable, and surplus to emission reductions that are already needed to comply with an existing requirement (local, state, or Federal) or air quality plan. These criteria are intended to ensure that the emission reduction is a permanent reduction from the emissions that would otherwise be allowed to offset the permanent increase in emissions from the new or expanding source.

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It is debatable whether the claim that the 241 will reduce emissions is real (in that the TCA and SCAG say it will and everyone else says it won't). They say the road will encourage carpool use, but TCA will have to pay for studies to demonstrate that in fact the toll road significantly contributed to carpool use - if they ever get to build it. And enforceable? What if it turns out people are driving solo on the toll road? I suppose they could always raise the fares for single drivers.

SCAG might just be having a knee-jerk reaction to discovering that Cerrell Associates, to whom they pay $250,000 per annum for media and public relations, also work for the California State Parks Foundation, which has lobbied against the 241 for years. (h/t to Matt Cunningham)

In a nutshell: SCAG sent a letter to Orange County transportation officials. That means OCTA and TCA, for all practical purposes. SCAG has supported extending the 241 for years, as has OCTA, which is little surprise; Supervisor Bill Campbell sits on the Board of both OCTA and the TCA. In yet another OC Republican Circle-Jerk, all this amounts to is toll-road supporters warning other toll-road supporters that the road will screw with their plans, which were screwed to begin with.


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