The U.S. Department of Commerce Thursday upheld the California Coastal Commission's opposition to a plan to extend a six-lane Orange County toll road through San Onofre State Beach.
The Coastal Commission in February rejected the extension of state Route 241, finding that the project was inconsistent with California law and threatened environmentally sensitive habitat.
The Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency, the Orange County- based entity seeking to build the $875 million project, appealed the Coastal Commission's decision to the Department of Commerce, arguing that the toll road is needed to alleviate traffic.
A 10-hour hearing on the appeal was held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in September, but a decision didn't come until today.
The U.S. Department of Commerce said it opposed the project under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act.
In its ruling, the Department of Commerce stated that it can override an objection only if no reasonable alternative to the project exists, or if the project is necessary for national security.
"The department determined that there is at least one reasonable alternative to the project,'' the ruling states. "The department also found that the project is not necessary in the interest of national security.''
The TCA did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Opponents of the state Route 241 project have long argued that the toll road would do permanent harm to one of the few remaining coastal wilderness areas left in Southern California.
Environmentalists said the toll road would do harm to the San Mateo Creek watershed and would set a bad precedent for the use of state park lands.
Surfers, led by the Surfrider Foundation, asserted that the freeway would cause irreparable harm to San Onofre's surfing beaches. One of the area's surf breaks, Trestles, is considered by many as North America's premier wave.
Supporters of the project maintained that the toll road was needed to reduce traffic congestion in Orange County. They also said the project would create jobs amid the poor economy.