Page 1

TRANSPORTATION CORRIDOR AGENCIES our Environmental Initiatives


Friends, In November 2016, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) and the Save San Onofre Coalition, comprised of a dozen national and local environmental organizations, announced a groundbreaking settlement agreement that permanently preserves sensitive lands and cultural resources within the San Mateo Creek watershed, including San Onofre State Beach, the Richard and Donna O’Neill Land Conservancy, and Trestles. The agreement also provides the TCA with an opportunity to consider a number of transportation solutions that will improve regional mobility along the Interstate 5 corridor and relieve traffic congestion in the South Orange County. Although difficult, this undertaking highlights it is possible to both preserve irreplaceable cultural, ecological and environmental resources and improve mobility. We hope this innovative and monumental achievement will serve as a model for other groups seeking to balance protecting the environment with improving mobility in the pursuit of enhancing the quality of life throughout communities in the U.S.

Elizabeth Goldstein President California State Parks Foundation

Stefanie Sekich-Quinn Coastal Preservation Manager Surfrider Foundation

Damon Nagami Director Southern California Ecosystems Project Natural Resources Defense Council

Dan Silver Executive Director Endangered Habitats League


Table of contents INTRODUCTION 4 PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS

6

SPECIES & SITES

13

ENVIRONMENTAL TIMELINE

20

ENVIRONMENTAL AWARDS

26

CLOSING 28

1


Ross Chun, Chairman San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency “Two and a half decades of TCA’s environmental initiatives have benefited Orange County’s air, water, land and wildlife. From wildlife undercrossings to improved and self-sustaining habitat for threatened species to stormwater management practices that reduce runoff, TCA’s commitment to sustainable transportation solutions is visible through its numerous, diverse programs and projects. With project timeframes that stretch into perpetuity, TCA is protecting Orange County’s open space for future generations.”

Craig Young, Chairman Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency “Responsible stewardship is at the heart of TCA’s environmental initiatives and its support as a founding partner of the Natural Communities Coalition of Orange County. TCA provided significant funding to The Natural Communities Coalition of Orange County’s endowment of $10 million to ensure the long-term management of the 37,000 acres set aside as open space. It’s a smart investment in preserving the scenic beauty and healthy ecosystems of Orange County while building sustainable transportation solutions.”

2


3


Introduction The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) do more than operate The Toll Roads. For 25 years, we have been committed to balancing construction and operations with the preservation of open space and wildlife habitat in Orange County, California. We haven’t merely balanced the impacts. We have replanted native vegetation; restored habitats for threatened species; conducted scientific studies; removed invasive and non-native plants; and improved waterways and creeks. This report highlights our longtime commitment to the environment and the high standards we have set in fulfilling a special vision.

4


25 years of restoration and revitalization In the 1970s, studies showed the need for new roads to serve Orange County’s growing population. By 1981, the future State Routes 73, 133, 241 and 261 were roughly sketched onto county road plans as freeways – but due to a lack of state funding they eventually had to be planned and built as toll roads. The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) were created as two joint powers authorities in 1985 to plan, construct and operate The Toll Roads. Very shortly after our creation, environmental work and transportation planning got underway. We began working on the necessary reports outlining potential environmental impacts and the mitigation and restoration needed to move forward with construction. By 1990, we were working with the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, California Coastal Commission, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Federal Highway Administration to secure environmental approvals and permits for construction. All of the roads’ Environmental Impact Reports exceeded regulatory expectations and were certified by all resource agencies. Today, TCA protects the natural resources of more than 2,000 acres of habitat and open space throughout Orange County. In partnership with local, state and federal organizations, we are deeply committed to being a good steward of the land we have set aside as permanent open space and, thus, a contributor to the greater effort to conserve healthy, functioning ecosystems. Our programs and projects are grounded in science and adaptive management, and benefit the area’s quality of air, water, land and wildlife. Partnering to protect Orange County’s fragile habitats and wildlife is our highest priority.

5


Program highlights

6


Natural Community Conservation Plan: The Birth Of A Nature Reserve The Orange County Central/Coastal Natural Communities Conservation Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan (NCCP/HCP) was born from an uncommon alliance between private landowners, environmental organizations and federal, state and local governments that created a connected network of permanent open spaces across Orange County while allowing for continued economic growth and development. The idea of creating multi-species habitats — instead of focusing on one plant or animal species at a time — broke new ground and developed a large-scale plan to protect 39 individual species. Ultimately, it launched a new approach for coordinating development and habitat preservation. We were an early partner and major financial contributor to the NCCP/HCP effort — contributing mitigation sites and providing nearly $7 million of the $10 million endowment for ongoing management. We continue our regional participation through ongoing financial support and membership on the organization’s Board of Directors. Today, the land set aside under the NCCP/HCP stretches over nearly 40,000 acres from Orange County’s coast to the Cleveland National Forest and shelters seven federally protected species and more than 30 sensitive species.The coastal sage scrub found on half of the NCCP/HCP land represents one of the rarest ecosystems in the world – often compared to the Amazon, Madagascar and the eastern Himalayas for its breadth of biodiversity and the threat it once faced.

7


Coyote Canyon: The First Successful Native Habitat Restoration On A Closed Landfill When it closed in 1990, the Coyote Canyon Landfill’s closure plan was the first in the nation to include specifications to create habitat for a federally-listed bird species, the coastal California gnatcatcher. We planted 122 acres of coastal sage scrub habitat on the closed landfill — an important location for habitat restoration to maintain a linkage for the coastal California gnatcatcher and other species between the San Joaquin Hills and Upper Newport Bay. It was the first time native habitat for an endangered species was planted on a closed landfill. Twenty years after its closure, the Coyote Canyon Landfill’s coastal sage scrub habitat is self-sustaining and successfully supports coastal California gnatcatchers.

8


Bonita Creek: From Drainage Ditch To Thriving Wetlands Near the 73 Toll Road, riparian woodland that we preserved and restored with wetlands and coastal sage scrub provides breeding habitat for the federally protected least Bell’s vireo and coastal California gnatcatcher. Aromatic sagebrush, mulefat, cottonwood and other native plants cover most of the area. Red-winged blackbirds build their nests from cattails and sedges near the wetland’s edge. The Bonita Creek site is a thriving wetland and coastal sage scrub community that serves as a major wildlife corridor from Upper Newport Bay to the San Joaquin Hills. We began work on the site in 1995, restoring it from a narrow concrete channel to a willow woodland and wetland marsh now home to more than 70 species of birds. Invertebrates, small mammals and larger mammals such as coyote, bobcat and mountain lions also use the habitats. Bonita Creek’s revived ecosystem has won federal acclaim and inspired an interactive website, BonitaCreekClassroom.com, which educates students about water quality, habitat conservation and local wildlife. Free workshops on the program have been offered to local science teachers.

9


Wildlife Surveillance and Tracking: Keeping Our Eyes On The Road And On Wildlife The habitat surrounding The Toll Roads is monitored by strategically placed motion-sensing cameras to keep an eye on wildlife and document how they use our undercrossings. Day and night, animal activity, behaviors and movement patterns are observed to make sure they are healthy and safe. The camera footage also helps us determine if any improvements are needed. To aid in tracking and observation, wildlife experts have placed special, temporary GPS collars on several mountain lions over the years. While they are sedated for collar placement, the mountain lions undergo a brief physical exam to check their health and their blood is analyzed to measure genetic diversity. GPS collars are designed to fall off the mountain lion after one to two years of tracking. Based on tracking information, fencing and undercrossings improvements are made to help wildlife move safely under and around The Toll Roads to and from their natural habitat.

10


Undercrossings: Drivers Cross Over, Animals Cross Under Before The Toll Roads were built, the natural travel patterns of local wildlife were studied. Twenty five years ago, deer were monitored and tracked in the open spaces of Orange County to determine the paths they used the most. When The Toll Roads were constructed, wildlife undercrossings were built at the locations where animals travel the most. Wildlife use the undercrossings to move safely and quickly from point A to point B. Even though the undercrossings were built based on the travel patterns of deer, every day mountain lions and other wildlife use them too. One of the busiest wildlife undercrossings in Southern California is under the 241 Toll Road.

Wildlife Undercrossing

11


241 Toll Road Wildlife Safety Protection Fence: Keeping Drivers and Mountain Lions Separate and Safe To prevent mountain lions and other wildlife from entering The Toll Roads, we asked the University of California, Davis’ Wildlife Health Center to study our existing wildlife safety fencing and undercrossings and suggest improvements to increase safety for drivers and wildlife – particularly mountain lions. Based on the UC Davis’ findings, new fencing was installed along the most critical portions of the 241 Toll Road to funnel animals away from the roadway to undercrossings for safe passage. The fence also includes “jump-out ramps” for animals to safely escape if they accidentally get on the roadway. This new 241 Toll Road Wildlife Safety Protection Fence is an awardwinning industry model, setting an example for transportation projects across the nation. Since its installation, no mountain lions have been killed by vehicles on or near the road.

12


SPECIES & Sites

13


protected species TCA’s habitat restoration activities have benefited many readily identifiable target species. These are rare and unique species that can be sensitive to human impacts and/or enjoy special legal status. They often have interesting distributions near California’s coasts and some are approaching their biogeographic limits within the state. The following species have benefited the most from our habitat restoration activities.

Coastal California Gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica)

A small blue-grey songbird, the coastal California gnatcatcher lives in coastal sage scrub habitat. It is a federally threatened species whose preservation has guided much of TCA’s conservation planning. Gnatcatcher sightings are great news for an ecosystem’s health.The gnatcatcher is like the proverbial canary in a coalmine— its survival and breeding is a way to measure the success of an environmental restoration project.

Coastal Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) About eight inches long, the coastal cactus wren has a spotted white belly and speckled brown feathers. The cactus wren, as you might deduce from its name, makes its home in cacti like prickly pear and cholla – the spinier, the better. Nests built within the dense bristles and thorns protect its young from predators. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has listed the bird as a species of special concern.

14


Least Bell's Vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus) The least Bell’s vireo is a small bird with short, rounded wings and a short, straight bill that breeds entirely within California and northern Baja California. Its feathers are mostly gray above and pale below. This is a common protective marking in birds because, when seen from below, they blend in with the clouds and, when seen from above, they blend in with groundcover. The least Bell’s vireo is listed as a state and federal endangered species.

Other species that have benefited from our environmental work: • Arboreal salamander • Black-bellied slender salamander • California horned lark • Catalina mariposa lily • Coastal rosy boa • Coronado skink • Coulter’s matilija poppy • Foothill mariposa lily • Golden eagle • Heart-leaved pitcher sage • Laguna Beach dudleya • Nuttall’s scrub oak • Pacific pocket mouse

• Peregrine falcon • Prairie falcon • Riverside fairy shrimp • Rough-legged hawk • San Bernardino ring-necked snake • San Diego fairy shrimp • Santa Monica Mountains dudleya • Small-flowered mountain mahogany • Tecate cypress

15


Mitigation locations Bonita Creek and Reservoir Mitigation Site: Formerly a narrow concrete channel, Bonita Creek has been restored to a thriving wetland and coastal sage scrub community that serves as a major wildlife corridor from the San Joaquin Hills to Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach. The site’s natural habitat was re-established so successfully that seven pairs of coastal California gnatcatchers gave birth to 32 chicks in the area by the end of the monitoring period in 2001. Bonita Creek’s revived ecosystem has won federal acclaim; inspired an interactive website that educates students about water quality, habitat conservation and local wildlife; and was the topic of free workshops offered to local science teachers. Cañada Gobernadora Ecological Restoration Area: Cañada Gobernadora sits in a broad valley in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains and is near a tributary to the San Juan Creek.To restore the former farmland’s riparian woodland habitat, we planted thousands of willow trees and hundreds of oak and sycamore trees. The site is home to several species of wildlife, including tree frogs, deer, coyotes and bobcats. Coyote Canyon Mitigation Site: Just four years after this mid-century landfill closed, we began planting buckwheat, sage and other native plants at the site. Nest monitoring and other studies have documented the increase of the federally-listed coastal California gnatcatcher population utilizing the restored habitat. By the end of the official monitoring period in 2000, proof of successful restoration was demonstrated by 10 pairs of breeding gnatcatchers having 53 chicks, with an additional two single males sighted in the area.

16


SLOPES 170 ACRES

214 ACRES

CANYON 50 ACRES

PLAZA 23.2 ACRES

STRAWBERRY FARMS

6 ACRES

UCI ECOLOGY RESERVE

6 ACRES

BONITA RESERVOIR 7.2 ACRES

BONITA CREEK

SLOPES 118 ACRES

31.2 ACRES

UPPER CHIQUITA CANYON 1,182 ACRES

21.1 ACRES

118 ACRES

17


Limestone Canyon Mitigation Site: Formerly a sand and gravel mine located on the east side of Limestone Regional Park, Limestone Canyon is surrounded by rolling hills and complements the existing wild and iconic beauty of the adjacent park while providing seamless wildlife use. Numerous varieties of butterflies, reptiles, birds and mammals thrive in the restored wetlands Live Oak Plaza Conservation Area: East of the 241 Toll Road at El Toro Road and Live Oak Canyon, Live Oak Plaza is unincorporated land that contains valuable oak woodlands, riparian and coastal sage scrub habitat for the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher and the endangered Riverside fairy shrimp. The open space had been zoned for commercial, residential and gas station development but now provides natural wildlife movement corridors to and from the Cleveland National Forest. San Diego Creek Salt Water Marsh Mitigation Site: Adjacent to Upper Newport Bay, the San Diego Creek Salt Water Marsh provides significant habitat for more than 68 species of birds — including grebes, herons, egrets and the endangered least tern. In partnership with the Natural Communities Coalition Plan (NCCP) and University of California, Irvine (UCI), TCA was awarded a grant for restoring and enhancing habitat at this site for the coastal cactus wren, a small bird whose local population has declined by more than 80 percent since the mid-1990s. The site spans from the saltwater marsh to Coyote Canyon to UCI and is a key water source for Upper Newport Bay. Siphon Reservoir Mitigation Site: Located northeast of Irvine, Siphone Reservoir is home to buckwheat, sage and other dense scrub that provide breeding habitat for the coastal California gnatcatcher. In 2010, the Irvine Ranch Water District took permanent ownership of the site and maintains the habitat today.

18


Slopes of the 73 and 241 Toll Roads: We carefully planned the restoration of these native habitat slopes to ensure they complemented the existing open space areas. Coastal sage scrub and chaparral were planted to provide habitat for many wildlife species native to Orange County. Coastal California gnatcatchers have been documented nesting and raising their young in the habitat and wildlife undercrossings allow animals access to open space on either side of the roads. Nearly 85 percent of the slopes require no irrigation and most of the remaining 15 percent is irrigated with recycled water. The slopes we created at Glenwood Drive extend south of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park into Aliso Viejo, providing natural habitat for numerous species, including the coastal California gnatcatcher. Strawberry Farms Restoration Site: Located in Irvine, we have restored and enhanced coastal sage scrub, cactus scrub and native perennial grassland at Strawberry Farms, which provides habitat for several species, including the coastal California gnatcatcher and coastal cactus wren. University of California, Irvine Ecological Reserve: We funded the implementation of a coastal sage scrub restoration project on the UCI campus within its open space preserve. This area is home to several pairs of coastal California gnatcatchers and supports numerous other birds, reptiles and amphibians. Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area: The restored habitat at Upper Chiquita Canyon supports important populations of coastal California gnatcatchers and coastal cactus wrens, and provides valuable connectivity for wildlife movement. Several families of deer are spotted running throughout this site on any day. TCA saved this site from residential and golf course development.

19


Environmental timeline

20


21


our environmental commitment: 1990s Construction of the 73 Toll Road began. A 3.2-mile portion of the 241 Toll Road opened to drivers.

TCA’s Environmental Planning Department was formed to lead all environmental initiatives.

The Cañada Gobernadora Mitigation Site was established. With approximately 7,800 willow, oak and sycamore trees planted, the site has become home to several species of wildlife — including tree frogs, deer, coyotes and bobcats.

Construction of the 241 Toll Road began.

1993 Late 1980’s

1990 1994

Landscape architects began creating renderings of TCA’s proposed environmental mitigation sites by hand. Today that work is done with computer simulations. Biologists conducted Coastal California Gnatcatcher Presence/ Absence Surveys to determine the bird’s presence where The Toll Roads would be built. TCA’s mitigation plan for the threatened species has included creating hundreds of acres of habitat in Orange County.

22

TCA helped form the Natural Communities Conservation Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan (NCCP/HCP) to set aside prime natural habitat and permanent open space in Orange County. Restoration work began at the former Coyote Canyon Landfill. Coyote Canyon was the first closed landfill in the U.S. to be successfully converted to habitat for a federally listed bird species, the coastal California gnatcatcher. MacArthur Boulevard was raised onto a bridge to re-establish the creek in Bonita Canyon. Once a narrow concrete channel, TCA restored the creek to a thriving wetland and coastal sage scrub community that serves as a major wildlife corridor.


Restoration work began at the Siphon Reservoir Mitigation Site. TCA successfully returned the citrus grove to its natural habitat. The location of the 133 Toll Road/241 Toll Road connector was moved south to avoid coastal sage scrub – which is habitat for the coastal California gnatcatcher. For the first time, the coastal sage scrub landscape restored at the Coyote Canyon Landfill was home to a pair of breeding California gnatcatchers. The bird continues to breed at the site.

The 261 and the remaining portion of the 241 Toll Road opened to drivers.

Near the 241 Toll Road construction site, a TCA biologist rescued a baby golden eagle that was found lost and weak from starvation in a temporary reservoir. The eagle was nursed to health and released back into the wild. Construction of the 133 and 261 Toll Roads began.

The 133 and a portion of the 241 Toll Road opened to drivers.

1999 1995

1997

1998

1996

The 16-mile 73 Toll Road opened to drivers. The NCCP/HCP established 37,000 acres of open space – including most of TCA’s mitigation sites. As a participating landowner, TCA contributed 67 percent of the endowment to manage the land. Restoration work began at the San Diego Creek Salt Water Marsh Mitigation Site. More than 47 species of birds including the endangered least tern have been sighted using the area as habitat. Restoration work began at the Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area. The restored habitat supports important populations of the coastal California gnatcatcher and coastal cactus wren. Several families of deer call the site home.

23


our environmental commitment: 2000s

The Live Oak Plaza Mitigation Site was purchased, preserving it as open space and a wildlife connection to the Cleveland National Forest. The land contains valuable habitat for the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher and endangered Riverside fairy shrimp.

2000 2005 TCA’s Spring Tours premiered and were held for 14 consecutive years. Thousands of people enjoyed the free hikes guided through open space that was protected with construction of The Toll Roads.

24

2010

TCA, the Natural Communities Coalition and UCI worked in partnership to successfully implement a grant to restore and enhance habitat for the cactus wren.


TCA, County of Orange, City of Newport Beach and other partners celebrated 20 years of environmental innovation and success at the Coyote Canyon Landfill. The site is entirely selfsustaining and continues to support coastal California gnatcatchers.

Habitat restoration work began at the Strawberry Farms Mitigation Site — an important wildlife linkage to assist in the recovery of the cactus wren.

2012

2014

The award-winning 241Toll Road Wildlife Protection Fence was completed and aroundthe-clock monitoring for effectiveness began.

2015

2013

Construction began on a state of the art fence along the 241 Toll Road to protect wildlife and drivers from collisions. The project was the result of a joint study with University of California, Davis focusing on the movement and health of the area’s wildlife, including mountain lions.

25


Environmental Awards Environmental Excellence Award Federal Highway Administration

Focused Issue Planning Award American Planning Association - Orange Section

Award of Merit American Planning Association California Chapter

Toll Innovation Award International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association

Innovative Transportation Solutions Award Women’s Transportation Seminar Orange County

Toll Excellence Award in Social Responsibility International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association

26


27


Closing

The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) have been a leader and innovator in achieving its mission to improve regional mobility in Orange County, California. We have balanced that mission with our commitment to establishing restored habitat as permanent open space in Orange County. Twenty years ago, TCA was a leading partner in establishing the Orange County Central-Coastal Natural Communities Conservation Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan (NCCP/HCP) to create a connected network of permanent open space across Orange County. This cooperative partnership represented a new approach for establishing large blocks of connected open space serving as multispecies habitat. Through creative bridge construction, TCA has been able to innovatively provide wildlife crossings as well as create creek and wetland habitat. • Wildlife migration corridors have been protected by bridging across naturally occurring creeks, canyons and arroyos. • Bonita Creek was a narrow concrete ditch that was restored to a willow woodland and wetland marsh. Thinking outside the box, TCA pursued a plan to utilize the recently closed Coyote Canyon Landfill as a mitigation area. Despite healthy skepticism, the Coyote Canyon Mitigation Site is thriving and has become one of the most important breeding areas for the coastal California gnatcatcher population. As a model for transportation projects, TCA has recently installed a state-of-the-science wildlife safety fence along the 241 Toll Road between the 91 Freeway and the 261 Toll Road to funnel animals away from the roadway to existing wildlife undercrossings for safer passage. Today, as we look forward to further improving regional mobility through the completion of The Toll Road network, we are engaged in thoughtful discussions and outreach that balance the objective of improving transportation mobility with the importance of protecting environmentally sensitive areas of Orange County. Michael A. Kraman Chief Executive Officer Transportation Corridor Agencies

28


29


The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) are two joint powers authorities formed by the California legislature in 1986 to plan, finance, construct and operate Orange County’s 67-mile public toll road system. Fifty-one miles of the system are complete, including the 73, 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads. Elected officials from surrounding cities and county supervisorial districts are appointed to serve on each Agency’s board of the directors. Public oversight ensures that the interests of local communities and drivers are served and that TCA continues to meet the region’s growing need for congestion-free transportation.

TRANSPORTATION CORRIDOR AGENCIES

TheTollRoads.com

Environmental initiatives  
Environmental initiatives  

The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) do more than operate The Toll Roads. For 25 years, we have been committed to balancing constructi...