News & Car Culture

California Dreamin’: Is the Golden State on the Verge of Getting its Own Autobahn?

California Route 99 Sign

(Image/Fox KTVU)

After years of leading the push toward strict environmental regulatory action and the adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles, California’s ongoing mission to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions may actually result in a highway change that automotive enthusiasts can get behind—an American autobahn.

California Senator John Moorlach (R-Orange County) introduced a new bill on Feb. 15 that, if passed, would direct the state’s Department of Transportation to build two additional lanes on each side of Interstate 5 and State Route 99 with a posted speed limit of…nope.

Senate Bill SB-319 proposes an amendment to section 22348 of California’s streets and highways code that would exclude drivers utilizing the new lanes from fines related to driving at speeds greater than 100 miles per hour:

Existing Law

22348. (a) Notwithstanding subdivision (b) of Section 22351, a person shall not drive a vehicle upon a highway with a speed limit established pursuant to Section 22349 or 22356 at a speed greater than that speed limit.

(b) A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than 100 miles per hour is guilty of an infraction punishable, as follows….

Proposed Change

(b) Except as provided in Section 148.5, a person who drives a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than 100 miles per hour is guilty of an infraction punishable, as follows….

The bill characterizes the plan for limitless high-speed lanes as “a viable alternative” to California’s high-speed rail system—plans for which has run up against significant funding issues—that provides residents with “access to high-speed, unabated transportation across the state.”

Construction of the new lanes would be funded by the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. It seems ironic considering the correlation between fast cars and increased greenhouse gas emissions, but the text of the bill suggests that traffic congestion on these roadways already is contributing to higher-than-ideal emissions.

“You’re burning the fuel efficiently, as opposed to just sitting in slow traffic waiting for one truck to pass another truck for 20 minutes,” Moorlach said in an interview with CBS Sacramento. He added, “So why don’t we provide people with vehicles the opportunity just to drive at 100 miles an hour, get to San Francisco in a shorter period of time than the train would?”

Moorlach noted that widening an existing highway would be significantly cheaper than building new rail lines. While that part may be true, the claims related to gas emissions are a bit less clear.

An article from The Drive pointed to studies that have shown increasing the number of highway lanes can actually create more traffic by encouraging more people to drive. It also noted that Germany recently began implementing speed limits across its own autobahn highway network, precisely to curb harmful emissions.

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