Updated at 2 p.m. May 10 to better reflect Magro's presentation to the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce.
For the third time in six months, tollway officials will meet with the Marine Corps in June to discuss the Transportation Corridor Agencies' ideas to re-align its proposed Foothill South extension.
The Marine Corps has disapproved of the agencies' proposal to build the extension so that it's parallel to and east of San Mateo Creek, skirting the western boundaries of a proposed training area at Camp Pendleton. The agencies' CEO, Tom Margro, assured local business leaders Wednesday that although the Marine Corps doesn't favor this newer alignment, plans to extend the 241 road from Oso Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita to San Clemente "are not dead."
"We have to go back and work on some different ideas," he said. "The point is we didn’t give up."
Margro said the conceptual alignment presented to the Marines last year avoids sensitive areas such as campgrounds and sacred American Indian grounds at . An older alignment, to the east of San Mateo Creek, was denied by the California Coastal Commission, a decision upheld by the federal government in 2008, because, as staffers said, it was the most environmentally damaging route of the 39 options.
That alignment would connect to the 5 freeway via an underground tunnel, rather than by a bridge crossing over the creek. The 5 freeway is the only one currently connecting Orange County to San Diego County.
Like the original alignment, the newer one had the tollway connecting to the 5 freeway near Trestles, a collection of popular surfing spots at the tip of San Mateo Point. The final portion of the 16-mile extension would traverse from north to south the entire length of San Onofre State Park, leased by the Marine Corps, the agency that has the authority to to grant land easements.
An electrical engineer, Margro likened this controversial project to the 8.7-mile extension of Bay Area Rapid Transit system from Colma in San Mateo County to San Francisco International Airport in the late 1990s. "We had tremendous opposition from cities down in the peninsula because they had their own commuter rail. We were going to bring crime, we were going through five cemeteries and behind a hospital."
Plus, rail line had to be built over wetlands that are home to the endangered San Francisco garter snake. At least one garter snake turned up dead at the construction site, temporarily halting work while the Department of Fish and Game investigated. Transit officials had to pay more than $1 million to the construction company, as it was never determined who was responsible for the death, the Associated Press reported at the time.
In Orange County, published reports show environmental advocates distressed about the toll road harming endangered species in the state park.
"How did we overcome all of those obstacles? In San Francisco we had great political support … the biggest support we had was from the business community," Margro told members. "We can do the same thing here, but in order to do that we need support—a strong showing of support."
He referred to that's been under way since 2009 to garner more community support. This week, the agency is distributing door hangers in San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and Dana Point.
Denise Erkeneff, an official with the South Orange County Chapter of Surfrider Foundation, said such efforts will be fruitless, as the people and governments have spoken.
"I think they want to keep pedaling the bike to keep their jobs, but I don't know where they're pedaling it to," she said.
The cost to promote, design and construct the Foothill extension is also climbing near the $1.5-billion BART extension price tag. Margro said Wednesday that the latest estimate is $1.4 billion. When the Coastal Commission voted 8-2 in February to quash the proposal, it was reported that it would cost $875 million to complete.
Adam Townsend contributed to this report.