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Rancho Ortega Blog discusses matters of public interest in South Orange County, including the communities of San Juan Capistrano, Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo.

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Toll Roads Scrap I-5 Connector; Refocus on Tesoro Extension

The under-resourced and under-staffed Patch is still able to break some local news, such as this story:

Officials overseeing the 241 Toll Road in Orange County said today they have moved to scrap federal environmental reviews of an extension of the major arterial to San Diego County because they have languished for about a decade.  That does not mean, however, that the extension plans have stalled permanently. Instead of focusing on a 16-mile extension of the toll road, officials are refocusing on a roughly 5.5-mile extension.

That 5.5 mile extension is the Tesoro Extension, which will seek to extend the Toll Road from its current endpoint near Oso Parkway to a new terminus near Cow Camp Road in Rancho Mission Viejo.  In more optimistic times, we discussed the Tesoro Extension in this article.  The image below illustrates the proposal:

Proposed 241 Extension, image source: Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency

Keep in mind that this development does not mean that the Tesoro Extension will occur anytime soon, especially after the Toll Roads were denied a permit by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.  All we are talking about is raising the white flag on the proposal to eventually connect the 241 to the I-5 south of San Clemente, and restarting the environmental review process for the much smaller Cow Camp Road connection.  Meanwhile, the Transportation Corridor Agencies’ appeal of the San Diego Board’s decision will proceed, with action on that appeal due by October 2014.

Back in July, we pondered what this meant for Rancho Mission Viejo in this article, and concluded that trouble for the 241 does not necessarily mean trouble for the Ranch.  The Ranch Plan was approved with or without a 241 extension.  This is what we said back then:

South Orange County desperately needs additional north/south highways and arterials. (It also needs east/west arterials, but that’s another subject.) The 241 would have filled that north/south need, even if built in segments as proposed. Freeways (or toll roads) are superior to surface streets for the simple reason that they move more vehicles, more quickly. That being said, the 241 is a complement to, but not a substitute for, the northbound 5. A freeway would have been nice, but it is not necessary. As a result, that north/south function can be filled by a high capacity public roadway. As you can see from the image below, the Ranch Plan was approved for both scenarios in which the 241 was built and in which it wasn’t. (Click here for a high resolution version.)

Ranch Plan Roads with and without the 241 Extension

The “new” north/south roadway that would replace the 241 is currently called “F” Street, and it would nearly mirror the proposed route of the 241. It is unclear whether it could be extended south to Planning Area 8 and San Clemente like future proposed 241 segments, but one imagines that doing so would be logical, if not inevitable. None of this is alarmingly urgent. The Tesoro Extension (or in the alternative, F Street) would impact Planning Area 2 of the Ranch Plan, which is currently in the planning stages with the goal of commencing construction later this year.

While it still may not be “alarmingly urgent,” it’s much more timely now with grading happening as we speak on Planning Area 2.  If the only north/south alternative to I-5 is a makeshift route from the 5 up Avenida Pico to La Pata across Ortega Highway to Antonio Parkway to Cow Camp Road to the 241, well that’s not a sustainable solution to South Orange County’s traffic problems by any stretch of the imagination.   We had to wait 50 years to break ground on the La Pata Gap Closure, let’s hope we don’t need to wait another half century to address this one.

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