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On Monday, March 16th, the San Diego Water Board voted 6-0 to uphold a previous decision to deny the Toothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) a permit to build a 5.5 mile extension to their existing 241 toll road. Last September CALPIRG Education Fund released a study entitled Highway Boondoggles – Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future. After reviewing transportation projects across America, we selected TCA's Tesoro Extension project as one of the eleven "transportation boondoggles" discussed in the report, because of TCA's poor financial track record on their previous toll roads.
CALPIRG Testimony Before the San Diego Regional Water Board:
My name is Emily Rusch and I am the Executive Director of CALPIRG. I am here today to urge you to adopt the proposed resolution and approve the denial of the Tesoro Extension.
As previous speakers have stressed, the Tesoro Extension is merely the first 5.5 miles of the failed Foothill South project that would have caused major damage to water resources and other natural resources. Our concerns with this project extend beyond the environmental damage to the financial risks. CALPIRG Education Fund’s released a study “Highway Boondoggles – Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future.” After reviewing transportation projects across America, we selected TCA's Tesoro Extension project as one of the eleven "transportation boondoggles" discussed in the report.
• TCA's traffic projections on both its toll road systems - the 241 and the 73 - overestimated the number of people that would use its toll roads. As a result, TCA has risked default on its bonds.
• To avoid default, TCA broke its promise to make the 241 toll road toll free by 2040. TCA had to refinance its bonds on this toll road, extending toll collection another thirteen years at an additional cost to motorists of $1.8 billion.
• Even with $1.7 billion in public subsidies identified by the conservative Pacific Research Institute, and taxpayer subsidies to maintain and repair the toll roads, they are still money losers. When you combine the refinancing costs for the 241 with the recent and proposed refinancing for TCA's 73 toll road, the combined additional cost to motorists will exceed $3 billion.
Now, TCA wants to go into further debt to pay $200 million PLUS interest costs for the Tesoro Extension, which inherently is just part of the $1.7 billion 16-mile Foothill South project that has already been rejected. We are concerned that their intent is to begin building the failed Foothill South project and seek approvals incrementally to avoid the comprehensive review of the water quality impacts of the project that the Porter Cologne Act demands.
As we noted in our report, this "would add to the financial liabilities of an agency that is already in trouble." If there is some other benefit the road would have, then it should be justified on that – because the traffic numbers certainly don’t justify it. On the contrary, the traffic numbers should both make us skeptical about whether it should be a priority for our tax dollars, and whether future toll shortfalls will mean the state will need to shell out more in the future to make up for those shortfalls.
Again, on behalf of CALPIRG, I respectfully urge you to adopt the proposed resolution and approve the denial of the Tesoro Extension.
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