California’s own Autobahn? Valley reps have mixed reaction to no speed limit on Highway 99

Learn about the bill that would remove speed limits on I-5 and Highway 99

A California bill proposes two added lanes to Interstate 5 and Highway 99 with no speed limit. If the bill passes, it would tie Germany’s Autobahn for the world’s fastest speed limit.
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A California bill proposes two added lanes to Interstate 5 and Highway 99 with no speed limit. If the bill passes, it would tie Germany’s Autobahn for the world’s fastest speed limit.

A Southern California legislator has proposed a bill to add new lanes to Interstate 5 and Highway 99 without speed limits, an idea that has drawn mixed reactions from Central San Joaquin Valley representatives.

Senate Bill 319 could help with congestion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa.

Idling on the highway “increases the emissions of greenhouse gases as it causes automobiles to idle longer while on roadways,” the bill says.

Moorlach also argues the new commuter lanes could help make up for what the proposed shorter high-speed rail plan lacks.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would shrink the plan for a bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles in favor of a train connecting the Central San Joaquin Valley from Merced to Bakersfield.

“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 told CBS13 in Sacramento.

The bill would require the state Department of Transportation to add the lanes in both directions from Bakersfield to Stockton. The normal speed limit would still apply to the other lanes.

State Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, said she had “serious questions” about the proposal, adding she was interested in learning more about it.

The senator, whose district covers areas of Merced and Stanislaus counties, questioned whether allowing drivers to move at 100 mph through the notorious Central San Joaquin Valley fog would be wise.

“The weather conditions (in the Valley) are entirely different than the weather conditions in other parts of the state, and I don’t think people realize the times of the year that you have to be really careful,” she said. “You can’t go 100 mph, and I can see people trying to go 100 mph even though it’s not really safe.”

She said state representatives should also be encouraging people to use their cars less.

A motorist drives up the Highway 99 North on-ramp in Merced, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. Andrew Kuhn

The 400-mile stretch of highway that runs through the centers of Sacramento, Fresno, Merced, Modesto and other valley cities recorded 62 fatal accidents per 100 miles over a recent five-year span, according to a 2016 report from consumer research organization ValuePenguin.

The private consumer research organization based in New York dubbed Highway 99 the deadliest major highway in the country.

Officials with the California Highway Patrol said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

The proposed bill would fund the new lane construction through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, though the cost is unclear.

Adding lanes to the highways would not help reduce emissions, according to Bill Magavern, spokesperson for the Coalition for Clean Air.

“That’s junk science because when you get to speeds that are that high above say 55 or 60, the efficiency actually starts going down and that means greenhouse gas emissions per mile go up,” he said. “In addition, when you add freeway lanes you’re encouraging more people to drive.”

The proposed changes to the highway may have its supporters. Adding lanes could be a benefit in the Valley, where large sections of Highway 99 goes down to two lanes, according to Sen. Andreas Borgeas, R-Fresno.

“Highway 99 expansion and improvements are always welcome in our neck of the woods,” he said.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he has more recently been located in Merced and Los Banos.