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A California Autobahn? Not So Fast.

Southern California lawmaker proposes no speed limits on I-5 and 99.

KCBS Radio Overnight News
February 20, 2019 - 3:41 pm

A Southern California lawmaker has proposed that the state create new sections of highway where drivers can go as fast as they please. 

State Sen. John Moorlach (R-Orange County) has proposed building new lanes on northbound and southbound Interstate 5 and State Highway 99 from Bakersfield to Stockton, where the state would be forbidden from imposing speed limits.

With SB 319, Moorlach proposes to fund the creation of California's version of Germany's famous, high-speed Autobahn using cap and trade revenues that are intended to combat climate change. 

Speaking to KNX Radio in Los Angeles, Moorlach claimed that driving 100 m.p.h. would allow travelers to go from L.A. to San Francisco faster than a higher speed train, assuming one is ever built.

The high-speed train would actually travel at 220 m.p.h for much of its route, allowing for a 2-hour-40-minute journey between the two metropolises, but Gov. Newsom recently announced he favored building a shorter route in the Central Valley from Merced to Bakersfield

“If Sacramento is serious about allowing Californians to travel between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and High-Speed Rail will take too long to build, let's construct four additional lanes with no maximum speed limit to provide for high speed on a safe road,” Moorlach said in a statement

Moorlach’s proposal calls for the new lanes to be designed “for both speed and safety,” without providing specifics.

A National Transportation Safety Board study found that speeding was a factor in 31 percent of all traffic fatalities. It is also not clear how such a plan would align with the state’s goal to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030. Emissions from cars and trucks make up the state’s biggest source of greenhouse gases. 

In a press release, Moorlach said that California’s growing population requires modern, safe highways to connect the northern and southern region of the states. The release cites a World Health Organization that cites only 4.1 traffic deaths per 100,000 residents in Germany, compared to 12.4 in the United States. But many factors may explain that disparity, such as Germany's robust public transportation and nationwide high-speed rail network that connects the country's major cities. 

It’s also not clear what appetite, if any, a Democratic-controlled state legislature would have for taking up SB 319.

Speed limits have historically varied state to state, although President Nixon signed a national highway speed limit of 55 m.p.h. in 1974. The federal government returned the authority to the states to set speed limits in 1995, and the American Safety Council reports that 35 states have since increased their highway speed limits to 70 m.p.h. or higher. Approximately 40,000 people die in road and highway collisions annually, a number that has risen in recent years.

Written by Jordan Bowen.