It’s called the South County Traffic Relief Effort, or SCTRE to its friends. Consider it a plan by both Caltrans and the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) to relieve traffic congestion in South Orange County.
“The purpose and fundamental objectives of the Project are to materially improve north-south regional mobility in South Orange County and accommodate regional travel demand in a manner that promotes the supporting objectives related to mobility in South Orange County,” states the always exciting SCTRE Preliminary Scoping Report. “Transportation infrastructure improvements are necessary to address the existing and future deficiencies for north-south regional mobility in south Orange County.”
These deficiencies include the extremely well-known fact that “demand approaches or exceeds capacity on I-5 during peak commuting hours and weekends,” there aren’t too many options for travelers stuck on I-5 in South County when there’s a big traffic collision down there and the whole region needs to be a lot more attractive to people walking and biking.
Because this is Orange County, the way to solve these problems is apparently to expand South County’s already rich and confusing network of toll roads. Specifically, the project (which spans 10 Orange County cities) includes 10 alternatives (well, 11 if you count Alternative 1, the “No Build Alternative” that leaves everything exactly as it is) that propose a variety of different road expansions. Their numbering is a bit unusual because there were originally 20 or so but over the last couple years some have been kicked out for being infeasible.
Anyway, here they are:
Alternative 9: Connect Ortega Highway and Antonio Parkway to Avery Parkway and SR-73
Alternative 11: Widen I-5 to include a new general purpose lane in each direction from the El Toro Y to Basilone Road, near the San Diego County line.
Alternative 12: Convert two existing HOV lanes in each direction on I-5 from I-405 to Alicia Parkway into HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes.
Alternative 13: Widen Los Patrones Parkway and convert it into a toll road from Oso Parkway to north of Cow Camp Road, then extend SR-241 by adding a four-lane toll road from north of Cow Camp Road to I-5. This alignment would predominantly affect San Juan Capistrano.
Alternative 14: Similar to Alternative 13, but the alignment would affect San Clemente.
Alternative 17: Again, similar to Alternative 13, but the alignment would affect San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano in different ways than the previous two.
Alternative 18: Build a four-lane arterial connection from SR-73 to Antonio Parkway.
Alternative 21: Extend Los Patrones Parkway with two lanes in each direction from Cow Camp Road to Avenida La Pata (perhaps as a toll road, though that hasn’t been concluded yet). This alternative also includes a “median-to-median HOT lane connector from SR-73 to I-5.”
Alternative 22: Similar to Alternative 21.
Alternative 23: Extension of “managed lanes” (HOV or HOT lanes) on I-5 from Basilone Road to either Avenida Pico or the SR-73 terminus.
Each alternative is spelled out in a lot more detail here.
In any case, there seems to be some question as to whether all this is really necessary, and it’s coming from the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), of all places. In fact, it might even be unjust, according to this Nov. 12 Orange County Register story:
The Orange County Transportation Authority has spent millions out of its half-cent sales tax revenue to widen and add carpool lanes on the 5 Freeway in the region. Converting those carpool lanes to tolled lanes, OCTA officials argue, would mean drivers pay twice for projects on the I-5, once through sales tax and again through tolls.
Public comment on the alternatives opened on Nov. 8 and runs just a month, to 5 p.m. on Dec. 9 (in the above cited Register story, project officials say they’re expanding the public comment period to two months, but the official SCTRE website still lists Dec. 4 as the cut-off date). Those wishing to submit comments can do so by email (sc*****@SC***.org) or by mailing them to the following address:
Caltrans District 12, 1750 E. 4th St., Santa Ana, CA, 92705 (write attn: Env/SCTRE Scoping on the envelope)
There are also two public hearings on the project coming up. The first takes place on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at the Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center (24932 Veterans Way, Mission Viejo) from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. There will be another public meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 4 at the Ocean Institute (24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dan Point) from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. You can also submit public comments on the project in person at either of these meetings.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.