Another summer is upon us, filled with backyard barbecues, trips to the beach and long sun-filled days. It also will be filled with summer gridlock in Southern California.
During Memorial Day weekend, 2.5 million people took to Southern California freeways. The No. 1 destination was San Diego. Travelers experienced the freeways converging in southern Orange County and narrowing to only one option. They also experienced traffic gridlock all the way to central Orange County.
This problem is not unique–it happens almost every day. What is unfortunate is the effort to prevent completion of a critical link in Orange County’s freeway network: the Foothill South Toll Road (SR-241).
Since 1981, SR-241 has been on the books. For more than a decade, the toll-road management agency, known as the Transportation Corridor Agencies, has been studying, planning and engineering this critical 16-mile extension. The SR-241 extension is vital because it’s the only way of relieving pressure on I-5 and SR-55 in central Orange County. Failure to complete the Foothill Toll Road by bowing to political pressure will cause a chain reaction beyond southern Orange County. Freeway congestion–particularly heavy on weekends–is creeping farther and farther north. Traffic woes in Lake Forest and Mission Viejo are turning into a clogged I-5 in Irvine, Tustin, Santa Ana and Anaheim.
In the last two decades, all county freeways have experienced significant traffic increases, only adding to the need for the SR-241 extension. That growth is not slowing. By 2020, weekend traffic is expected to skyrocket by 60 percent through the southern Orange County stretch of I-5. To see the future, we only need to look as far as the Riverside Freeway (SR-91). Imagine a trip from Garden Grove to San Juan Capistrano looking like a Friday afternoon from Anaheim to Corona.
The addition of the Foothill South is essential to keep pace with the growth in traffic, population and employment. At the Orange County Transportation Authority, we are planning to widen I-5, but this alone won’t be enough to relieve the congestion. And because I-5 is the only major route in and out of southern Orange County, the impacts could be devastating if the freeway had to be closed during an emergency or because of an accident.
As the county’s transportation planning agency, OCTA has thoroughly evaluated the region’s current and future transportation needs. Completion of the Foothill Toll Road is vital for our future. OCTA’s planned freeway and street improvements for the region assume completion of SR-241. Years of planning efforts by OCTA will be hampered. Projects will have to be scrapped, forcing us back to the drawing board if the Foothill Toll Road is left unfinished.
The TCA has worked with federal, state and local agencies on two separate environmental-impact studies to select a preferred alignment for the Foothill South. Study costs alone have reached $20 million. The road will utilize state-of-the-art measures to mitigate any impacts to the environment. The process must continue without further delays.
Much of the Foothill South debate has played out in southern Orange County by special-interest groups. But it’s finally time that the voices of Orange County’s residents be heard. Surveys have shown strong countywide support for the toll road extension.
On Election Day last November, our community members spoke loudly and clearly with a landslide 69.7 percent support for future transportation improvements when they voted to renew the half-cent Measure M sales tax. Voters told us they want a reduction in time they spend gridlocked on roadways and more quality time with their families. Voters want congestion relief, and they want it now. The 241 delivers that traffic solution.