The Foothills in your Headlights: The Extension approved

Yesterday, the board members of the Foothills/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency voted 12-3 to approve the $875 million Foothills South (241) extension, which will cut through both San Onofre State Beach and the Donna O'Neill Land Conservancy. But that ominous rumbling you hear in the distance isn't the sound of bulldozers starting, it's the chuckling of herds of attorneys thinking about all the billable hours this vote guarantees them. Because this vote, far from being the end of the matter, is just the beginning.

As the San Diego Union-Tribune points out:

The project still needs approval of its environmental impact statement from the Federal Highway Administration and permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers.

That will be the easy part, since the Bush administration has never seen a green space it didn't want to pave. Somewhat more problematically:

It will also need permits from the California Department of Fish and Game, Regional Water Quality Control Board and Coastal Commission.

Any of which represents a higher hurdle than the feds.

The 16 mile toll road extension doesn't have much in the way of support in Sacramento either. The State Resources Secretary and the Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing issued a joint statement expressing their disappointment regarding the vote. More importantly, the Union-Trib reports:

Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who has threatened to sue to prevent construction of the road through the park, is considering his options, his spokeswoman, Teresa Schilling, said after yesterday's vote.

"The attorney general will work to make sure the parkland is protected," she said.

Not exactly a thunderous denunciation, but certainly a stronger statement than the bleat of vague disappointment the governor's office released.

Of course the real opposition to the toll road extension won't be coming from the "disappointed", it's going to come from the angry. Not just environmentalists, but also surfers concerned that run off from the road would ruin the Trestles surf break, and others who feel that camping is best done without car fumes (the road would run just 50 feet from some of the sites of San Onofre's San Mateo campground). James Birkelund, an attorney representing a coalition of groups opposed to the extension, has already said that he will be filing a lawsuit to stop the road within 30 days.

That 30 days may be the only firm deadline there is regarding the Foothills South extension. The LA Times reports that the new road is scheduled to open in 2011. The Orange County Register says 2012. But judging by the strength of the opposition to the project, I wouldn't be making plans to blast through San Onofre State Beach on the extension's four lanes (or will it be six?) in either year just yet.


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