Proposal for No-Speed-Limit Highway Widening Is Partisan Trolling

Senator Moorlach proposes to basically add an autobahn to both sides of this highway. Image: Google Streetview
Senator Moorlach proposes to basically add an autobahn to both sides of this highway. Image: Google Streetview

When I helped launch Streetsblog Los Angeles eleven years ago, I never imagined that transportation would become so partisan. Educating politicians is of course a core part of any movement, and the movement for safe streets is no exception. But over the last decade, how one views efforts to make our transportation network more clean, safe, and welcoming for all road users is increasingly seen through a highly partisan lens.

And through that lens it should come as no surprise that Republican California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach made national news this week when he proposed a massive highway widening to increase north-south mobility. Moorlach introduced Senate Bill 931, which would add two northbound and two southbound lanes to the I-5 and State Route 99. In a fun added twist, Moorlach’s legislation would make it so that there would be no speed limit on the new lanes, causing no amount of joy for headline writers heralding the American Autobahn.

To make the case for his bill, Moorlach argues that removing speed limits would reduce car crash rates. He also claims that congestion causes increased greenhouse gas emissions. In an amazing interview with Road and Track, a magazine for automotive enthusiasts, Moorlach unabashedly reveals he has no idea if speed limits have anything to do with crash rates or pollution, but it sounds good–and would help the roads qualify for cap-and-trade funding from the State, if anyone buys his arguments.

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There is next to zero chance this bill will get anywhere. However, it is part of what’s been a trend in California for the Republican Party: trying to politicize transportation as a way out of the Trump-created political wilderness the state party now finds itself in. They have had some success with this strategy regionally, successfully recalling a new state senator over his vote in favor of the gas tax; but largely have failed to make either high-speed rail or the gas tax an issue they can ride to political power statewide.

Whether this bill is a test to see if Californians are interested in creating a no-speed-limit highway network or just a weird one-off by a State Senator who really likes cars (seriously, you HAVE to read the whole interview at Road and Track) is unknown.

  • douglasawillinger

    Does that link go to a different list then on my screen? That which does has no BMW 328i nor any other BMW, and says nothing about factors as gearing and engine design that would effect mpg.

  • douglasawillinger

    Regarding Co2- Has Streetsblog taken a position on the lax labeling standards regarding E10+ motor vehicle fuels, such as the lack of octane labeling and the huge variance in Ethanol content in fuel labeled as “E-85”?

  • douglasawillinger

    How many on freeways versus how many on roads with at grade intersections? Comparative rates?

  • jcwconsult

    I just returned from a 4,333 mile trip to Florida and back in a 2015 BMW 328i. We cruised at the normal 85th percentile speeds of about 80 mph on rural freeways in 6 states and at about the 85th speeds on rural 2 lane highways in Florida (55 to 65 mph). Overall we got 29.8 mpg. We might have eeked out 31 or 31.5 mpg with slightly slower speeds, but at a time loss that we were not willing to pay.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Claude

    Air resistance increases as a square of the difference in speed.
    Well designed aerodynamics reduces the initial resistance at any speed, but the square law remains the same, since the air is the same regardless of the efficiency of the vehicle traveling through it.

  • Wranger

    You are a twisted little man with very odd views that I don’t even know how to respond to. I looked you up and you don’t seem like an idiot troll, but somehow massively in love with cars and interested in people using them as much as they possibly can and paving as much if America as humanly possible. What’s your motive, James?

  • jcwconsult

    We measure deaths per vehicle mile traveled, so as long as you spent your short time on Earth driving as many miles as possible we are fine with it.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Wranger

    According to the 34,247 people killed just in 2017, you are an idiot with no regard for human life.

  • jcwconsult

    According to the National Motorists Association they are extremely safe and we have nothing to worry about.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Wranger

    Just in 2017 there were 34,247 fatal automobile crashes in the U.S., but sure, drivers are super safe all the time.

    https://cdan.nhtsa.gov/GISMaps/STSI_MAP_Mobile.htm?1&USA&VAR1=1&41&-99&34,247&34,748&32,538&5

  • Jeffrey Baker
  • calwatch

    OTOH I don’t see the Democrats reducing the speed limit to 55, or going for photo enforcement for speeds of 75 mph or higher for climate change purposes. (Putting photo enforcement for 75 mph speeds on the highway would be like shooting fish in a barrel but also could lead to violent revolt like what happened in Arizona a few years ago when speed vans were being shot up.)

    Contrary to James Walker’s contention I find a significant difference when I cruise at 75 mph in my 2016 Mazda and when I cruise at 55 mph, both on flat roads with few traffic signals. I can achieve mpg of over 40 at 55 mph while at 75-80 mph it’s at around 35, a 15% difference. The EPA has stated that most other cars behave similarly. The truck races are annoying but 99 is mostly three lanes all of the way, and if you are going to Sacramento or Stockton a much more interesting and smoother drive than 5.

  • jcwconsult

    No roads should have speed limits. Drivers are the best judge of what speed is safe to drive, as evidenced by their exemplary safety record.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • spragmatic

    Ha! That’s a good explanation of their speeds.

    I would imagine the being able to keep a constant cruise instead of everyone slowing to glacial truck speed and then hammering the throttle to get back up to 80 MPH would probably save a lot of fuel and pollution.

    The best solution would to be put freight on trains and eliminate the trucks.

  • Do Something Nice

    Take your homophobia, sexism and fake machismo elsewhere, “real man.”

  • jcwconsult

    Up to the low 80s there is little difference in modern cars.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    A better idea would be 85th percentile posted limits for all lanes.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I-5 in California is 2 lanes in each direction along virtually its entire length in California, but trucks are frequently seen in the left lane passing other trucks in the right lane with speed differentials normally associated with tectonic plates.

  • eBob

    Here in Illinois, trucks are only allowed in the two rightmost lanes on limited access highways where there are more than two travel lanes in a given direction. This does not seem to be enforced very often, but the signs are on the roadways.

  • eBob

    How would this different from what they did in Montana back in the 1990s? They had a non-numerical “safe and prudent” speed limit on rural highways. Their supreme court forced them to post limits.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    You have to be a complete idiot to need more research in order to learn that obvious point that, as speeds go up above 55 or 60 mph, fuel efficiency declines because of increased wind resistance.

  • Eric W

    So, how many speeding tickets do you think this guy has gotten? Should we count his “friends” he was racing with?

    And, clearly Orange County deserves smarter representatives…

  • Jeffrey Baker

    How much fuel would be saved by a new law requiring trucks to drive in the right lane only at all times without exception?

  • spragmatic

    Interesting points. Allow me to add this: American drivers are not sophisticated enough, nor are they skilled enough to manage the speeds that could be reached.

    As someone who drives I-5 more often that he might wish, it is glaringly obvious this would result in “no-change.” That is, the trucks would still pass each other in all lanes at speeds far slower than that of the automobile traffic. Lazy and unconcerned drivers would still camp in the left lane, again at speeds far slower than the bulk of traffic and then of course there are the “undertakers” who overtake in the right lane then cut in at the last minute causing everyone in the left lane to suddenly brake.

    California society just isn’t capable of dropping it’s “me first” mindset to make it work.

  • Dean Finder

    I’ll play Devil’s advocate here. Whatever Moorlach’s motivations, there is a case to be made for removing speed limits from sections of controlled-access highways.
    Interstates are built to allow speeds higher than the 55 or 65 mph posted. (It can be argued that it’s significantly higher, considering the improvement in handling, braking, etc. in cars since the 1950s when the interstates were originally designed)
    The current speed limits are arbitrary and people drive accordingly – that is, ignoring whatever is posted. The idea that speed limits are unnecessarily low carries over to local roads.
    Enforcement is also distorted. With heavy fines for speeding on highways, police are motivated to go for the big fish (driving 75 on an interstate rather than 40 in a school zone).
    I say, remove the speed limits on controlled access highways outside of urban areas (having driven on Autobahns, they do have speed limits in urban areas with many interchanges) In exchange, increase fines and enforcement in areas where there is the highest risk to vulnerable users and enable automated enforcement around schools and playgrounds.

  • HannahInManoa

    The best place to try the experiment Sen. Moorlach — one that won’t take another acre of land for highway, and will cost relatively little money — is THE 73 TOLL. Among engineering-related factors, the 73 goes THROUGH Moorlach’s district, so he can enjoy opening up his hot rod car all the time.

  • thielges

    That interview is revealing as Sen. Moorlach exhibits a phenomenal lack of understanding of automobile and highway issues. His views seem to be influenced by wishful guesses centered around his personal driving experiences. Several times he mentions that California drivers are unable to get full enjoyment from their vehicles, as if that’s the main point of driving. It is as if his mind lives inside a car TV commercial. Not the sort of person you want defining public policy for the real world.

    In contrast the Road and Track interviewer was realistic and fact based. Great journalism.

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