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Mid County Parkway/Tunnel

Mid-County Parkway

Do you want two or three 45-50 foot diameter, 12-mile tunnels going through the Santa Ana Mountains between Corona (Riverside County) to the intersection of SR241 and SR133 in Orange County?  These tunnels are sometimes referred to as the Irvine Corona Expressway (ICE) and will allow 70,000 to 100,000 daily car trips into Orange County.  With all these cars connecting at the 241 Foothill Toll Road, there will be immense pressure to extend that road.

If your answer is NO, then you need to help STOP the Riverside County Mid-County Parkway (MCP), which starts in the city of San Jacinto and basically comes to a halt in Corona with its traffic having no place to continue further west except by going south to the Ortega Highway or north to Highway 91, which are both already very busy during commuting hours.

Halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, the Santa Ana Mountains form the largest intact natural landscape remaining in coastal Southern California.  The plant communities include Native Needlegrass, Engelman and Coast Live Oaks, wonderful wildflowers, and vernal pools.  You may also see Least Bell’s Vireos, California Red-Leg Frogs, foxes, bobcats, mountains lions, Grasshopper Sparrows, Black-Shouldered Kites, and badgers.  This magnificent landscape is home to a number of declining species and deserves all our efforts to protect it.

About five years ago, the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) issued a Notice of Preparation (NOP) for a freeway that went from the city of San Jacinto to Corona and through the Santa Ana Mountains into Orange County.  It was pointed out that they were segmenting the project, and, thus, they now have two projects moving forward.  One is the MCP, which is six to eight lanes, stopping on the west side of Highway 15 at the starting point of the tunnels through the mountains.  The Draft EIR/EIS for the MCP is scheduled to be out in September.  It is this DEIR/DEIS for which it would be best to have attorneys on board who have the expertise and resources to make quality comments which would allow them to win. 

The MCP must demolish  270 homes and businesses, a fire station, and a park in the city of Perris to make way for the eight-lane freeway.  It will also build close to existing homes.  In some ways it might be better to be forced out than to live so close to this major freeway, which raises issues of environmental justice directly related to this project. 

The MCP also passes through existing designated open space that is set aside as a preserve for threatened /endangered species, and it cuts off linkages.  Some of the animals located in this area include the Stephens Kangaroo Rat (actually a squirrel), badgers, bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, and long-tailed weasels, and it is also home to the Munz’s Onion, an endangered plant. In addition, it will open up what is now privately owned open space and farmland for the intense development that will surely clog these proposed roads with new traffic.

The second project, the 12-mile tunnels through the Santa Ana Mountains, has been on a slower course because most believe the MCP must be approved to justify digging through the mountains.  Just for comparison purposes, the 3.5 mile Boston “Big Dig” produced 541,000 truckloads of dirt, enough trucks to stretch 4,612 miles if they were placed end to end.  Depending on where the tunnels’ dirt is dumped, there could be significant impacts.

The RCTC and the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) formed the Riverside Orange Corridor Authority (ROCA).  It is the ROCA that is coordinating the effort on the tunnels at the urging of the OCTA and the RCTC.  It was two Republican members of Congress, Gary Miller of Diamond Bar, and Ken Calvert of Corona, who obtained $15.8 million in federal funds to move forward with the tunnel.  In early 2008 ROCA secured a special-use permit from the Forest Service to drill five bore holes.  This will allow them to do some geotechnical and hydrological studies. Since many tunnels act like drains, it is important that the tunnel be sealed and not “siphon water away from the surface, thereby threatening the forest, which has pockets of oak woodlands and many slopes lined with a thick chaparral carpet.” (Tunnel Business Magazine, December 2005)

The proposed path for the ICE also crosses at least four currently inactive faults, and the earthquake faults that run along the eastern side of the Santa Ana Mountains – away from the tunnel – are capable of generating a magnitude 7.5 earthquake.  Engineers who have written about this project believe that all potential difficulties can be solved and that a tunnel is one of the safest places to be in an earthquake.  They do plan on having over two hundred emergency exits, one every 300 feet, which appear to be tunnels connecting one tunnel to another.

I am not sure how many carbon monoxide scrubber vents will rise up into the forest from the two or three tunnels.  If the scrubbers are not effective, the fumes could choke the surround Cleveland National Forest.  In their efforts to maintain these vents, they will need access to them, which could result in significant damage to the forest.

Where the Mid-County Parkway (MCP) ends, the City of Corona has a building moratorium on the land to allow room to connect the MCP to the tunnels (ICE) into Orange County.  The federal government has given the transportation agencies an environmental streamlining pledge to process plans and documents as a priority on both projects.  Therefore, there appears to be strong support by many interests for the idea of a tunnel into Orange County.

All three of these projects are inter-related and connected with one pre-determining the next.  The MCP, with its Draft EIR/EIS coming out by the end of Seprember, is the first. It is important that those who are concerned about the ICE and/or the extension of the Foothill Toll Toad realize it will be the MCP that begins the approval process on all three projects.  It is important that qualified people make comments on the MCP’s Draft EIR/EIS.  The lead agency for this first project is the RCTC.

The RCTC, the OCTA, and the ROCA all need to pursue other non-tunnel solutions as vigorously as the MCP/ICE.  Other possibilities include:

·         Lane reversal, where Highway 91 would have more lanes going to Orange County in the morning and to Riverside County in the evening

·         Various forms of mass transit

·         Double-decking portions of the existing roadways or along the right-of-way

·         Using the $5-8 billion cost of building the 12-mile tunnels to instead attract business to Riverside County

The MCP is in an area where only the few knowledgeable people and those with direct impacts have so far expressed concerned.  It is hoped that those of you who read this will use all of your connections with environmental groups, law firms, and funding sources to convince everyone of the importance of challenging the MCP as the first and best way to prevent the 12-mile ICE and the Foothill Toll Road extension.

George Hague




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