While High-Speed Rail Flounders In California, A New Bill Would Create Speed-Limit-Free Lanes

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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Forget high-speed rail. A new California bill could usher in a new era of high-speed driving on two of the states highways.

Bill SB 319, proposed by California Republican State Senator John Moorlach from Orange County, calls for the creation of lanes on Interstate 5 (I-5) and California 99 (CA-99) unrestricted by speed limits. Moorlach sites several reasons to support his proposed bill.

But, What About Reality

Although this Bill sounds nice on paper, it is more of a political stunt than a well thought out alternative to high-speed rail.

 

First, it’s a response to California’s now-controversial high-speed rail project—one Moorlach has been an outspoken critic of. In a press release about his bill, Moorlach addressed the high-speed rail project directly.

“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,” Moorlach said, “let’s construct four additional lanes with no maximum speed limit to provide for high speed on a safe road.”

Secondly, Moorlach contends such unrestricted lanes would reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as congestion. He points to Germany’s autobahn system as evidence for these claims.

While it’s true such top-speed-free expressways may reduce traffic, emissions may not see such a downturn. According to the German Federal Environmental Agency, capping vehicle speeds to 120 kilometers per hour (75 miles per hour) on the country’s autobahn would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nine percent per year.

So, we can conclude that opening up high-speed lanes would have the opposite effect and increase emissions.

Moorlach also cites Germany’s low traffic fatality figures in his bill, and compares them to those of the U.S.: “According to a World Health Organization study, estimated road traffic deaths per 100,000 people is 4.1 in Germany, while 12.4 in the United States. Bringing this practice to California would replace the need for a high-speed rail that all could use.”

Anyone who understands the German transportation system, however, will immediately see the flaws in this logic. German drivers licenses are more difficult to acquire. German lane use and passing laws are much more stringent. And the country’s roadways are not only maintained but also built to a higher standard.

What’s more, Germany has cut its number of unrestricted speed zones—not added to them.

Given all these fact, it is unlikely this bill will become law. Perhaps in the future such a proposal could be more feasible. Once electrification and automation becomes more ubiquitous, both emissions and safety concerns could be lessened.


About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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