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U.S. Commerce Department rejects Foothill South toll road

December 18, 2008 | 10:03 am

The controversial Foothill South toll road, proposed to connect south Orange County with north San Diego County, was handed a major blow this morning when the U.S. Commerce Department announced it would uphold the state Coastal Commission's rejection of the plan.

Federal officials could only override the state's decision if the project had no alternatives or was necessary to national security, and the announcement this morning said neither of those criteria was met.

Today's decision is another -- and perhaps fatal -- setback for the proposed 16-mile turnpike, which had been blasted by environmentalists for cutting through a popular beachfront state park and lauded by transportation planners as vital to easing the region's gridlock.

The California Coastal Commission rejected plans for the road earlier this year, saying that the six-lane road -- which would run from Rancho Santa Margarita to Basilone Road at Camp Pendleton -- violated the state's coastal management program.

The toll road agency backing the plan "may pursue another route" consistent with coastal zone protections, according to the Commerce Department announcement. Since 1972, the department has ruled on 43 such appeals of state coastal zone decisions, overriding 14.

-- Susannah Rosenblatt