For whom the road tolls
The Transportation Corridor Agencies -- that would be the same group trying to build a toll road to nowhere through a favored state park -- is asking the government for a loan of more than $1 billion. But what the federal government really needs to take into account is the reason for the request: The existing toll roads aren't doing well. Contrary to what toll-road officials love to predict, higher gas prices do not make commuters switch to (less crowded) toll roads, where they pay an extra $4 to $5 or so each way.
The worst performer by far is the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor, or Route 73, which has never met expectations. Ridership last year was half the predicted level, and the numbers are sliding downward. This is significant because the 73 is the most similar project to the proposed Foothill South toll road through San Onofre State Beach; it doesn't actually lead to or from a population or employment center. It's a diversion route, intended to take drivers several miles out of their way to get around the traffic.
That hasn't worked with 73 -- which, because it hooks up with Interstate 405 farther north, actually follows a more sensible route than the Foothill South would. The proposed toll road would link up with another toll road, which would link up with another... well, you get it. The feds are considering the TCA's appeal on the Foothill South, after the California Coastal Commission rejected it. They should consider the chances that, after causing sizable damage to the environment, the toll road would end up another asphalt elephant.
Photo by Don Kelsen/LA Times