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The fight over the 241 Toll Road spills over to California Legislature

The fight over the future of the 241 Toll Road isn’t totally over yet.

At issue is a bill by Sen. Pat Bates, which would change the definition of the 241 Toll Road in the state’s highway code so the road ends in the description where it ends now at Oso Parkway, instead of reflecting a possible future extension to the 5 Freeway south of San Clemente. If passed, the bill would mean extending the 241 southward would require a new state law approved by the legislature, said Bates, R-Laguna Niguel.

Bates said the bill simply codifies the March agreement between transportation agencies that officials said ends the long-time debate over whether the toll road should be extended to the 5 Freeway. The agreement instead extends Los Patrones Parkway to Avenida La Pata to serve travelers.

“It’s an insurance policy,” she said.

But board members at the Transportation Corridor Agencies – which oversees the county’s toll roads – said Bates’ bill will weaken the agency’s ability to plan and build for the future. The agency is part of the agreement to instead extend Los Patrones. The bill, which is officially opposed by the TCA, recently passed the State Senate and will go to the Assembly for a vote.

“We know there are plans for quite a number of new homes in south county, and traffic has to go somewhere,” Mission Viejo Councilman Ed Sachs said. “Our concern is being able to keep our options open.”

After assemblymen Rocky Chávez and Bill Brough, Bates is the third state legislator in recent years who has tried from Sacramento to stop the TCA from extending the 241 Toll Road toward San Clemente – residents there strongly object to any plan that would connect the 241 through the city to the 5 Freeway.

Bates said by supporting the March agreement, San Clemente is agreeing to take more traffic through the city’s arterial roads and away from Oso Parkway, which cuts through Mission Viejo. Given the compromise, San Clemente residents need to be assured that the 241 will not pass through their city, Bates said.

The bill “will establish and restore trust between local agencies” after the long fight over the 241, Marc Aprea, representing San Clemente, said in a May Senate Transportation Committee meeting.

But TCA board member Tony Beall, who is also a councilman in Rancho Santa Margarita, said Bates’ bill only represents the interest of San Clemente. “It is unnecessary and very divisive.”

Mission Viejo has also come out against the bill, asking its residents to contact Bates to voice their opposition.

“What are the unintended consequences?” Mayor Brian Goodell asked. “What if another party to the existing agreement reneges, and traffic relief doesn’t come and all the traffic still remains to go through Mission Viejo?”

And the issue over the 241 should be addressed at the local level, not by people in Sacramento, Sachs said. “What if toll roads in the Bay Area wanted to add a new lane? What input could politicians from Orange County possibly be able to apply to what goes on in San Francisco County?”

But Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, voted in favor of the bill, saying state legislators such as Bates should have an opportunity to meditate and work out a solution that works for everyone. “If she’s not successful, it’s going to come again and again.”

Legislators have until Aug. 31 to send the bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

Source: Orange County Register

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