O.C. Lawmaker Proposes New Lanes on 5 Fwy With No Speed Limit as Alternative to High-Speed Rail

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A state lawmaker from Orange County recently introduced legislation to build additional lanes with no maximum speed limit on two California highways.

Republican State Sen. John Moorlach’s proposal calls for additional north and southbound lanes on stretches of Interstate 5 and State Route 99. The two highways run parallel to one another through the state’s Central Valley.

For the 5 Freeway – which runs the length of the state, including through Los Angeles and Orange counties – Moorlach envisions the new lanes beginning at the bottom of the Grapevine and going north to the Stockton area and possibly up to Sacramento.

“You’ve got a lot of open space between the north and southbound lanes,” Moorlach told KTLA in an interview Tuesday. “So why don’t we just go ahead and build four lanes, two north, two south … and then the drivers on those two lanes would be able to use any speed that they wish.”

The new lanes would be segregated from the ones that currently comprise the interstate, so passenger cars using the special lanes wouldn't have to dodge semi-trucks and trailers that now frequent the roadway, he noted.

“People are already driving 80 mph on the freeway,” Moorlach said. “So why don’t we allow them to go a little faster?"

California's general maximum speed is 65 mph, though it's 70 mph in some sections of highway throughout the state. The current speed limit on the 5 Freeway between the Grapevine and Stockton is 70 mph, as it is on parts of the 99 between the 5 Freeway split-off and the Madera area, according to Caltrans.

Moorlach told KTLA he came up with the idea in part to help ease traffic and reduce greenhouse gases, but also to provide an alternative to the state’s controversial high-speed rail, a portion of which is currently under construction in the Central Valley.

“The idea was, ‘Nothing’s moving,'” he said. “If this thing is going to take 10, 20 years, we could probably build lanes in a very short period, maybe three or four or five years.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently cast doubt on part of the high-speed rail project when he said during his State of the State address last week that there wasn’t “a path” for completing the entire rail section between Los Angeles and San Francisco. His office, however, said the governor is still committed to building it.

Newsom cited cost as a significant concern, as the latest estimates show the approximately 520-mile stretch of rail would cost about $77 billion, according to the Associated Press.

The price tag was something else Moorlach noted to be a major advantage of his lane-expansion plan over the bullet train.

“You don’t have to buy the land, which has been one of the big expense components of high-speed rail ... all the eminent domain,” he explained.

Since the state already owns the land, the cost of building the lanes would only be related to construction.

The project would be paid for using some of the funds from the state's cap-and-trade program, according to the Los Angeles Times. Moorlach told the Times one scenario pegs the cost at $3 billion.

And as far as safety goes, Moorloch said he has some evidence indicating support for his plan.

“We did some analysis, and the traffic incidents on the Autobahn in Germany” — which has no speed limit in some rural areas — “are lower than the freeways in California. So they’re actually safer,” he said.

In a news release, his office cited a World Health Organization study showing the estimated road traffic deaths per 100,000 people is lower in Germany than in the United States – 4.1 versus 12.4.

Since Moorlach's Senate Bill 319 is in its infancy, having just been introduced last Friday, the state senator said he doesn’t expect any action to be taken on the bill any time soon. Moorlach indicated a possibly long process in getting approval, as the bill hasn’t even been assigned to a committee yet.

“If this state, and Sacramento, think it’s so important to allow people to … be transported between these two metropolitan areas, then maybe we ought to give them a sporting chance,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Germany's freeway system operates entirely without speed limits.

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