UPDATE, MAY 9, 4:20 P.M.: The basis for the most recent PR campaign--pushing the need for additional evacuation routes in the case of a emergency at SONGS or Camp Pendleton--was a concern expressed in a public poll from November 2010 (months before the tragic events in Japan), according to Lisa Telles, a spokeswoman with the TCA.
The TCA sent out 14,000 mailers with response cards, asking residents to rank their reasons for why the 241 Toll Road extension should be built. In total, the TCA received 562 responses. From those responses, "Security" was listed as the fourth major reason, behind "Wasted Time and Traffic Relief," "Quality of Life," and "Safety."
But if the success of the Route 73 Toll Road is any indication, with its dipping user numbers, alleviating traffic isn't going to be a long-term benefit. Let's be realistic, for a large percentage of drivers, paying $5 every day to skip traffic is a financial hit they can't afford or don't choose to make.
As for the Surfrider Foundation's point that San Clemente residents wouldn't want to be driving toward whatever emergency may have occurred south of the city, Telles pointed out that in the proposed extension plans, there would be an interchange off Avenida Pico, near Talega, and there had also been a proposed interchange off Cristianitos Road.
ORIGINAL POST, MAY 6, 9:29 A.M.: Somehow, some way, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) is determined to get the extension project on the 241 Toll Road approved and completed. TCA's newest strategy: using the devastation in Japan as means to seemingly scare voters into demanding the projects' completion.
The TCA recently unloaded another PR blitz, distributing a press release and door hangers throughout South Orange County, reiterating the alleviation-of-traffic claim, along with suggesting the toll road could ultimately help save lives as well.
Problem is, the logic in the scare tactic seems flawed.
The ad campaign alludes to the possibility of a terrorist attack or a natural disaster affecting the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), requiring an immediate evacuation of the surrounding area. "Nightmare traffic on I-5 raises local concerns about lost time, safety, security," the press release read.
As Chad Nelsen, Environmental Director for the Surfrider Foundation, points out, the flaw is believing, in a time of widespread panic or emergency, San Clemente residents are expected to head south toward the nuclear plant in order to reach the toll road.
"[The TCA] is trying to use the tragedy in Japan as a springboard to make this pathetic argument that there's a need for the toll road as an evacuation route," Nelson said.
In a press release Surfrider circulated to counter the TCA's "campaign of misinformation," the nonprofit pointed out that neither the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or Southern California Edison (which operates SONGS), support TCA's claims that the evacuation routes and plans in place are inadequate, or need to be supplemented by the toll road project.
The Surfrider press release also singled out TCA board member Jim Dahl, a former San Clemente mayor and fire captain, who said there is no alternative route if "Interstate 5 is shut down for any length of time."
The fact is that San Clemente does have planned evacuation routes, using both Interstate 5 and PCH, and in the case of a disaster, both directions on Interstate 5 would be redirected northbound, making the 241 toll road useless, since it would connect to Interstate 5 south of the city.
As Surfrider pointed out, considering Dahl's past involvement with the city, it would seem he should be aware of these points.
TCA officials have acknowledged in various reports that they don't have any new alternatives. About a year ago they tried to present an alternative route that would go further into Camp Pendleton and lessen the impact on the state park, but military officials nixed that idea quickly.
Nearly two years ago, TCA's preferred route, through San Onofre State Park, was voted down, 8-2, by the California Coastal Commission and at a later appeal with the Commerce Department. Surfrider Foundation was among the most vocal opponents then, rallying surfers and citizens behind the cry, "Save Trestles!" for the famous surf break.
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Nelson called the most recent move by TCA "a little bit of a mystery."
He continued: "Why does the TCA exist? One reason, to build these roads, not to try to solve traffic problems."