‘Let’s Be Real’: High-Speed Freeway Lanes in California

December 16, 2021 Updated: December 17, 2021


Of all the bills I introduced while serving for six years in the California State Senate, the one that seemed to capture the Central Valley and national media’s attention the most was SB 319 in 2019.

Customarily, a senator can only author twenty bills each year. My staff and I would have nearly 100 great ideas for potential legislation which we would have to winnow down. I insisted on doing this particular bill because I wanted to make several points.

When it was submitted, it specifically asked for the California Department of Transportation, famously known as Caltrans, to build four dedicated lanes in the middle of Interstate 5 and the 99 Highway between Bakersfield and Stockton. To spice things up, there were to be no restrictions on the speed limit. In essence, it would have built the Golden State’s autobahn. Autobahns have been successful in Germany and have a lower accident rate than this country’s highways.

I did not do a press release or send out a press conference, as I did not anticipate any media attention. When reporters found the new bill and started asking questions, I was surprised and not initially fully prepared and had to catch up quickly. The story went viral around the country. It really captured the imagination of television news crews.

I was and still am frustrated with California’s High-Speed Rail project. Governor Brown, in his final 2018 State of the State Address, scoffed at that year’s $2.9 billion budget overrun for this project. It was a throwaway line for a bit of humor in his speech. But the State of Florida built their entire Brightline High-Speed Rail project for that amount. Going over budget is no joke, especially when another state can spend the same amount of that overage to complete their entire project!

In his first State of the State Address the following year, when Governor Newsom mentioned the state’s high-speed rail project, he blurted out, “Let’s be real!”

Gov. Newsom spoke the truth. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.” He had the State Auditor’s report (pdf), titled “California HighSpeed Rail Authority – Its Flawed Decision Making and Poor Contract Management Have Contributed to Billions in Cost Overruns and Delays in the System’s Construction” that was issued the prior November. And then he did nothing. Crickets.

If people really want to get from Southern California to San Francisco quickly, and do not wish to take an inexpensive flight with Southwest Airlines, let’s give them a simple alternative. Instead of waiting for California’s high-speed rail to be completed, why not build dedicated highway lanes able to handle vehicles moving at high rates of speed?

California’s effort to build, let alone maintain, its transportation infrastructure has been a farce. The Authority just announced plans for a section of the high-speed rail project from Burbank to Los Angeles. You can’t make this embarrassing story up. The word boondoggle is too kind for this financial fiasco.

Why not then attack the absurd with the absurd? That’s why I proposed this alternative.

Building four new lanes makes economic sense. Spending some $7 billion on laying concrete is less than one-tenth of the then-conservative projected cost of $77 billion to build the rail line. Sadly, it’s now forecasted to cost more than $100 billion!!

Having dedicated high speed lanes would enhance the movement of cargo up and down the Central Valley, as truck drivers do not have to be on guard for impatient speeders. And it is a better and more efficient use of fuel, as being stuck behind semis in slow traffic only hurts the environment more. And the lack of congestion would be refreshing.

The bill stimulated those who are unafraid to drive at high speeds. If you’re driving under 80 miles per hour on a Sunday morning, then vehicles are flying past you. Modern automobiles are engineered to travel comfortably at this speed and higher.

Can you imagine all the Ferrari car club members rushing over the Grapevine to enjoy a quick drive to the Bay Area for lunch and then return home for dinner? At least for those who actually enjoy their sports cars.

It fits with the latest technology for self-driving vehicles. Link up ten cars and their computers, about a foot apart, and have them cruise at 120 mph, and you have a high-speed train. And the passengers can watch videos or read a book while their high-tech capabilities glide them comfortably into San Francisco.

Unfortunately, Sacramento does not want to get real. It keeps on spending incredible amounts of money on lawsuits, right of way acquisitions and continues to have significant construction flaws and budget overruns. It’s as if the agency and its contractors know there are billions of taxpayer dollars flowing into this money pit and who cares if it ever gets completed. At least we can guess who may be buying a good number of Ferraris, as they milk your wallets.

My bill would be jettisoned because legislators are not important enough to introduce bills that would build roads. That is left up to the transportation bureaucracy. How’s that been working for you? So, I amended it to review the success that Germany has been enjoying for nearly a century with their dedicated high-speed lanes. That was also killed.

So much for addressing massive waste, minimal improvement to the air quality, and proving the project was a tragic fiasco. SB 319 made these points. This blue state is a failure when it comes to transportation projects. The litany of low rankings on a number of national comparatives having Caltrans ranked near the bottom is fodder for another column.

Having a little fun with a bill was a way to communicate the nonsense in the Capitol and shout out to the supermajority that it was time to get real.

My District in Orange County has the highest number of new car dealers in the state, and they covered the entire range of manufacturers. What a Christmas present if some of the high-end sportscar owners could really exercise their vehicles. And as someone who is a car buff, being interviewed by Motor Trend and Road & Track was a real treat.

The bill continues to receive attention in editorials in the Central Valley. Some writers got what I did, some didn’t, as humor is lost on some. But commuting the 400 miles to the Bay Area using the current highway infrastructure is not funny. And pursuing needed improvements, over pie-in-the-sky boondoggles, should be Sacramento’s focus and priority.

“Let’s be real,” Gov. Newsom.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Moorlach is a former Orange County Supervisor who most recently served as a state senator. He previously spent 12 years as Orange County’s Treasurer-Tax Collector, and led the county out of bankruptcy.