Toll Road Rage: Gone Fission

Illustration by Matt BorsFor the first time, I find myself agreeing with President Bush on a matter of substance: things look pretty dark right now. The bright side is that we shall never forget New Orleans, and hopefully it'll freak us out enough to prevent future colossal clusterfucks; disaster readiness is the flavor of the month.

All Californians live with the threat of earthquakes, but we hardy few in South County have the additional omnipresent threat of nuclear annihilation courtesy of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).

SONGS' twin domes rise like a fembot slumbering on the shoulder of the I-5 just past San Clemente. The station powers 20 percent of Southern California, but it could do so much more if only given the chance.

A terrorist attack, an earthquake, a simple malfunction, and it's adios, hermanos.

It could happen, says the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), the people who run the county's three toll roads. Fortunately, the TCA adds, they have a solution: their embattled plan to extend the 241 toll road from its Oso Parkway terminus to the I-5 at Cristianitos Road, practically across the street from SONGS.

The 241 extension would indeed give residents an alternative escape route; all they'd have to do upon hearing the evacuation order is drive straight toward a raging nuclear generator in full, furious meltdown.

It's all there in the documents. The second issue of the TCA's Foothill-South Flyer (October 2003) paints a pretty picture of the 241 as a much-needed alternative exit from a nuclear apocalypse. The assertion relies in part on a quote from SONGS PR guy Ray Golden. He says “a supplemental evacuation route, like the Foothill-South Toll Road, would enhance our nuclear emergency plan.”

The quote appears to be an endorsement, but I spoke to Golden last week, and he made it clear that SONGS has no position on the toll road. He did point out that residents ought to know they already have alternative routes. “You have PCH. You have the 74,” he said, dispelling the illusion of 175,000 evacuees clogging up I-5 while radioactivity cooks the stragglers in their lifted pickups and SUVs like Atkins meals in microwaves. And that's just the people within a 10-mile radius of SONGS. And if you find this hyperbolic, you haven't been watching the news lately.

The same issue of the Flyer contains an excerpt from the San Clemente Journal, an article by “San Clemente resident” Dottie Prohaska. Traffic is bad, she says, and it's going to get worse. “As a San Clemente high school teacher,” she writes, “I see hundreds of kids every year get their driver's licenses.” She says extending 241 “will not solve all our traffic problems, but it will be a step in the right direction.” Prohaska neglects to mention she's planning commissioner for San Clemente; as an authority on planning, she ought to realize the right direction is rarely towards gamete-frying, eyeball-popping radiation. Don't they teach that at her high school?

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