Drivers in California might be allowed to drive whatever speed they like in lanes on two major highways in the near future if a new bill proposed last month becomes law.
The bill, SB 319, requires California to construct two additional lanes on Interstate 5 and State Route 99 north and southbound. The newly created lanes, which will be separated from other lanes, will have no speed limits.
Republican State Sen. John M.W. Moorlach, who authored the bill, named it “the high-speed road,” after the state’s high-speed rail project.
“Replacing the defunct High-Speed Rail project—or at least providing an expedited transportation option until a substantial High-Speed Rail segment can be built decades in the future—with dedicated lanes would let Californians speedily and safely traverse the Northern and Southern parts of the state,” Moorlach said in a statement.
I-5 and SR 99, which connect several major cities in Northern and Southern California, are key components of California’s highway system. By adding two lanes to each, Moorlach suggests that would help reduce road deterioration and traffic congestion caused by the state’s growing population.
In addition, he said driving with no speed limit might not be as dangerous as it seems.
“The German Autobahn provides a model for California to explore,” Moorlach says on his website. “Their highway system connects urban centers safely, despite an unrestricted speed limit. The World Health Organization estimated road traffic deaths per 100,000 people is 4.1 in Germany, while 12.4 in the United States.”
“The BASt Federal Highway Research Institute delved deeper into accidents in Germany, finding injured accident rates (per million vehicle km) on autobahns is 0.09, compared to 0.22 on national and rural roads. The fatality rate (per billion vehicle km) is 1.7 on autobahns, and 6.3 on national and rural roads,” he continued.
The exact cost of the project is still unclear, but the author’s estimation is around $3.3 billion for the four new lanes from Grapevine to Sacramento.
The high-speed road project would be funded by revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program and likely would be cheaper than the high-speed rail, according to the author.
The high-speed rail project, which started in 2008 and was expected to be completed in 2033, has been plagued by serious delays and financial issues.
Due to the state’s complex terrain, geology-related engineering problems, and environmental reviews, many difficulties have been added to the rail project’s implementation, raising the cost to more than $77 billion. That’s $13 billion more than the state estimated in 2016, according to a 2018 report.
The project originally planned to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles with a travel time of 2 hours and 40 minutes. However, because of speed restrictions, certain design requirements, and cost concerns, a subsequent report had an estimate of 3.5 to 4 hours of total travel time.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has suggested shrinking the scope of the project and said during his State of the State speech on Feb. 12 that it’s too expensive, slow, and opaque.
One week after Newsom’s speech, the U.S. Department of Transportation canceled a $929 million grant to the project and began “actively exploring every legal option” for the return of $2.5 billion it’s already allocated to the project.
“It is the time for Governor Newsom and the Democrats to do the right thing, to defund, and to cancel this project immediately,” said Konstantinos Roditis, the vice chairman of Reform California.
“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.