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The battle to complete the Highway 241 toll road into San Diego County is finally over. Planners for the Orange County Transportation Corridor Agencies announced last week that they are dropping future plans to extend the six-lane highway from Rancho Santa Margarita, which would have connected with I-5, south of San Clemente at San Onofre.

The 16-mile extension of the 241 Foothill Freeway would have gone through a private nature preserve and an ancient Native American village. But most controversial: the freeway would have taken out the San Onofre State Beach campground and threatened the famous Trestles surf spot.

“It’s hard to imagine how [the toll road agency] could have devised a more environmentally damaging route,” read a November 23 editorial in the Los Angeles Times.

Reportedly, a settlement will end lawsuits filed by the California attorney general and nine environmental groups seeking to halt the project.

In 2008, Surfrider Foundation rallied over 4000 opponents to attend a state coastal commission meeting held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. To date, the 2008 meeting is the largest attendance for a commission meeting in the history of five-decade-old agency.

The coastal commission rejected the freeway plan. Toll-road planners appealed the decision to the Bush administration. At a hearing held by the Department of Commerce, also at the fairgrounds, over 3000 attended. The Bush administration ended up denying the appeal.

According to the L.A. Times, the settlement allows the toll-road agency to move forward with environmental studies on other routes to connect Highway 241 to I-5; also, environmental groups agreed to not oppose an extension project that avoids parklands, sensitive habitat, or cultural sites.

It was the Surfrider Foundation that took the lead in the opposition. “After ten years of advocacy, meetings with regulators, and law suits, we are beyond excited,” said Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, manager of the group’s coastal protection advocacy. “The settlement agreement was over two years in the making, but it was worth it. We now have permit protection for San Onofre State Beach.”

With I-5 being the only freeway through south Orange County, the highway is in a constant state of congestion, seven days a week, until northbound motorists can divert onto the 133/271 toll roads over to the Corona/Riverside area or take the 73/405 freeways going into coastal Orange County. Planners for the toll-road agency say they expect a 60 percent increase in I-5 freeway traffic in south Orange County by 2050.

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