Transportation Policy

Would Building Speed-Limit-Free Highway Lanes Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

One California legislator wants to combat global warming with more roadways.

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Now that Gov. Gavin Newsom has killed off plans for a high-speed train line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, one California legislator has a new idea for making the state's transportation system greener: expand the highways.

Last week, state Sen. John Moorlach (R–Costa Mesa) introduced a bill that would add two speed-limit-free lanes to Interstate 5 and Route 99, which both run north-south through much of the state.

To fund the construction, Moorlach's bill would draw on money generated by the sale of carbon emission credits from the state's cap-and-trade system. Some $1.6 billion of that money has been spent to date on the state's high-speed rail line, which under Newsom's scaled-back version will run from Merced to Bakersfield. Current law mandates that 25 percent of this cap-and-trade revenue be spent on high-speed rail.

Moorlach's bill wants to lay into the cut for his new highway lanes, arguing that new, non-speed-controlled lanes would accomplish what boosters of highspeed rail promised but failed to deliver: rapid transportation within the state and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The rapid transportation part is pretty straightforward. The greenhouse gas reduction, not so much. The text of Moorlach's bill argues that building out existing highways will reduce congestion, and with it all the unnecessary emissions that come from vehicles idling on the interstate. "Traffic congestion increases the emissions of greenhouse gases as it causes automobiles to idle longer while on roadways," says the bill.

It's an interesting idea, but it stops making much sense once you drill down into the specifics.

It is certainly true that congestion is bad for emissions. A 2009 study from the University of California Transportation Center found that congestion that brings speeds down below 45 miles per hour on a freeway increases carbon emissions, by keeping cars on the road longer. Carbon emissions get even worse in severe stop-and-go congestion, where cars burn through more fuel by constantly having to accelerate from full stops.

The same study found that imposing congestion mitigation policies, such as ramp metering and congestion pricing (whereby drivers pay variable tolls that rise with the number of cars on the road), could reduce the emissions by as much as 12 percent.

But the same study found that carbon emissions start to increase once a driver starts hitting 60 to 65 miles per hour, since engines need to burn more fuel to maintain those high speeds. Allowing cars to travel at 100 miles an hour might be good for travel times, but it would make emissions worse, not better.

There is also the problem of paying for the new lane capacity. Moorlach's plan to use cap-and-trade funds for new roads has the same flaw as using those funds to build high-speed rail or public transit: It's ultimately being subsidized by taxpayers, not by the new infrastructure's users.

New lanes aren't necessarily a bad idea, says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation expert at the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website). After all, I-5 is an old road that will have to be rebuilt soon enough. But he thinks any new capacity should be funded by tolls—particularly if they're going to let commuters travel at faster speeds. "I think if you are offering people a higher service than they can get right now, they should pay for it, and it should be tolled," he says.

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86 responses to “Would Building Speed-Limit-Free Highway Lanes Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

  1. Yeah that’s the ticket. Let’s double down on the stupidity

    1. Is there anything good or decent you don’t hate?

        1. I think your comment got auto corrected.

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    2. ” Let’s double down on the stupidity”

      Come come, JFree, it stands to reason that a speed limit is the cause of traffic congestion.

  2. Nope this will not work . It is all in the ‘;Sweet spot” of torque /horsepower .
    Also tire wear increases 3 and 4 fold once over 65 mph.
    and there be a whole bunch of oil in tires

    1. It’s the knock-on effect which is mentioned — reduce congestion. Additional lanes reduce congestion. Whether that itself offsets the increased pollution from higher speeds has not been addressed.

      One unmentioned factor is that if the new lanes are tolled, not only does that bring in money, but higher speeds might attract more users and bring in more money.

    2. My car, my choice.

  3. Had me at speed-limit-free. In fact, I stopped reading there.

    1. I was kinda hoping for no limit free speed.

      1. Why not both?

  4. How about we do this because it increases freedom and stop giving a shit about the global warming cult?

  5. California collects a shit ton of motor fuel taxes and more through cap and trade.The latter gets some from the electric vehicle drivers too. Reason just wants tol toll existing untolled public roads so governments can spend current transportation taxes/fees on something else.

    Transportation planners are the worst (see Robert Poole, Joe from Lowell etc).

    1. And Bailey seems to live under the impression that there are no second order benefits to building roads beyond those that acrue directly to their users. The Libertarian obsession with public roads is, next their desire to offend half the world having useless arguments over the evils of Lincoln, their strangest festish.

      1. Fuck Lincoln

        Sic semper tyrannis

        1. He saved the South from becoming Hati after the slaves finally revolted, which they would have. Do you really want Haiti south of the Mason Dixon line?

          1. Technically, it is south of the Mason Dixon line.

            1. True. But we don’t share a land border with it.

              1. We will when global climate warming change actually happens and the seas dry up – – – – – –

                1. Dear squirrels; please move the above comment to show it is in reply to John.
                  Thanks

          2. Or the existing trend towards mechanization would have made slavery uneconomical, and it would have withered away, maybe with less loss of life and freedom than a rebellion, maybe not.

            Over the thousands of years of slavery, it was always an economic institution, not a racial one.

            1. In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mud-sill. Fortunately for the South, she found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand. A race inferior to her own, but eminently qualified in temper, in vigor, in docility, in capacity to stand the climate, to answer all her purposes. We use them for our purpose, and call them slaves. We found them slaves by the common “consent of mankind,” which, according to Cicero, “lex naturae est.” The highest proof of what is Nature’s law…We are old-fashioned at the South yet; slave is a word discarded now by “ears polite;” I will not characterize that class at the North by that term; but you have it; it is there; it is everywhere; it is eternal. The Senator from New York [William Seward] said yesterday that the whole world had abolished slavery. Aye, the name, but not the thing; all the powers of the earth cannot abolish that.

              Sen James Henry Hammond SC – King Cotton speech 1858

      2. I think there is a good case for private highways. But yeah, roads aren’t exactly the low hanging fruit that libertarians should be aiming at.

        And yeah, the Civil War happened. Time to move on.

        1. There is nothing wrong with private highways. But having private highways doens’t mean you can’t also have public roads. One doens’t preclude the other. I happen to like roads and am fine with the government and private entities both building as much as they can.

      3. If you’re going to start trying to justify taxing due to second-order *benefits – then shouldn’t people also be eligible to receive payment for second-order maluses?

        It would only seem fair. Perhaps a new government agency could calculate them.

        1. Who says taxes have to always be “fair” or perfectly fair? The whole concept behind user fees is this bizzare obsession with everything being fair. Life isn’t fair. If you think it can be or should be, go be Prog.

  6. After all, I-5 is an old road that will have to be rebuilt soon enough. But he thinks any new capacity should be funded by tolls?particularly if they’re going to let commuters travel at faster speeds. “I think if you are offering people a higher service than they can get right now, they should pay for it, and it should be tolled,” he says.

    If you just pay us upfront, we will not bother to shake you down for speeding tickets. Is there some kind of IQ test that you have to fail before you get a job as an “expert” at the Reason Foundation?

    1. Damn you hate certain writers with a passion. What is that?

      You used to be interesting and amusing. Trump won, you tried glibs a couple of times, and now you just sound sour all the time. Screeching, sour, unhappy, angry … lighten up, Francis.

      1. I don’t dislike Bailey. I dislike stupidity. And that is an amazingly stupid statement. Why does having a higher speed limit justify higher user fees? That makes no sense.

        1. Perhaps for the same reason that having a higher bandwidth/data rate from your IP justifies higher user fees?

          1. I am not using any more road traveling at 80 than I am at 60. So that analogy doesn’t work. Your analogy would justify charging people more for how many miles they drive or for driving a bigger vehicle that wears the road out more quickly not charging for higher speed.

            1. Your putting more wear and tear on it.

              1. No you are not. Traveling on a road faster does not put more wear and tear on it. The wear and tear is a product of the weight of the vehicle not the speed. If anything traveling faster puts less wear on it because I am putting the weight of the car on any part of the road for less time.

                1. Speed does indeed add wear and tear. Turns, for instance, exert additional sideways push or pull. Acceleration to, and deceleration from, higher speeds take longer and take more traction. Bumps generate more force. Tires generate more heat from sidewall flex.

            2. Higher speed limits get you to your destination faster. Higher data rates get your data to you faster.

              1. So what? These are government user fees. The point is to cover the cost not extract as much money as possible.

        2. Maybe you should reflect on your own comment above.

          1. So irrationally taxing people for driving faster is good and decent? Really?

            1. Tain’t irrational. If it were a private road, and people would pay extra for a higher speed lane, that would be entirely rational. I despise government with a passion and think there is nothing they can do better than private industry and little they can even come close to doing as well. But not every idea is stupid or irrational just because some government goon thinks of it.

    2. If driving faster really does use more fuel, then the state will already be collecting more money from the people driving faster because they’ll be buying more taxed fuel.

      This really needs at least two lanes in each direction on each road though, or there’s going to be misery for the folks who have to shift between the 105 they can manage, and the 70 of the lower speed lanes, and the people who can do 170 stuck behind the people who can only do 105.

  7. I say build a canal! If longships were good enough for the Vikings by golly they are good enough for Americans. No emissions and think of the jobs for rowers (when the wind isn’t complying). Also you can sell the idea as a moat to the anti-illegal immigration crowd and of course progs would love it because how European it is.

    1. I find your canal suggestion to be very Erie.

    2. Guaranteed government rowing jobs!

  8. Totally unlimited speed. Darwin will solve the congestion problem. Everyone wins.

    1. Unlimited speed works just fine in Germany.

      1. Germany also has much higher taxes, and auto insurance is sky high. The taxes and insurance to be able to drive can outweigh the cost of a vehicle.

        1. How do high taxes make no speed limits work? And their auto insurance is high because they have so much regulation not because they have no speed limits.

        2. You also have to be a much better driver to get a license than you do in the US.

      2. Lots of things work in Germany (or Canada) that wouldn’t in the US. Not saying no-speed-limits wouldn’t work here, but just saying.

        1. Sure, but the fact that it works there is pretty good evidence it could work here. At least enough evidence to require those who disagree to explain why it wouldn’t.

      3. From what I understand, most drivers really only want to drive about 80-120 mph in the unrestricted speed areas.

        Then again, sometimes you get this
        https://youtu.be/wps_wPs8ZbE

        1. Having driven in Germany many times, that is from my experience true. The big thing Germany does that the US doesn’t and what I think makes the autobahn much safer and better to drive on than any US road is that they ruthlessly enforce the ban on driving in the left lane. The left lane is for passing only and trucks are never allowed in the left lane. This allows traffic to flow freely and makes the higher speeds possible and safe.

          1. Helps that the physical road surface is built to a higher standard probably as well.

            In as much as there are a lot of miles of US interstate that the traffic density, grade, medians, width, and straightness of the road would otherwise permit unrestricted speeds, the road surface itself isn’t sufficient for much more than 100.

            If we ever get an actual ‘American Autobahn’ I’d expect insurance companies to have clauses that limit coverage the higher the driver goes above a recommended limit.

            1. Not all of the autobahn in German doens’t have a speed limit. And all of them have speed limits at night. You can make reasonable rules. the point is that our speed limits are too slow in most cases and just set that way because speeding tickets are such a revenue producer.

        2. I love bad ass wagons. 😀

        3. Your typical American drive would need a whole lot of driver training before Autobahn driving became a reality here. Notice German drivers actually moved over to allow faster traffic to pass. As a general rule that doesn’t happen here. America drivers are basically self-absorbed dinks. 45 years and millions of miles of driving under my belt say so.

      4. Autobahns don’t go through urban areas

        1. On edit: In the very few places (Hamburg is one) where they actually go through the urban area, the limit is 80 km/hr. That’s 50 mph.

          And they enforce that exactly like you would expect Germans to enforce rules. You wanna test that on a stretch of I-5 from say Orange County to SF Valley? Get prepared for 50 speeding tickets, camera-enforced, to show up in your mailbox. They may not cost much ($15) if you only went 5mph over the limit at that camera. But if you were caught going 70+ at that camera – each ticket will cost $160 and 4 of those will mean your license has already been automatically suspended for six months. Try driving the next day with your now suspended license and you’re now going to jail. They also have no problem permanently yanking a driver’s license (I believe that is eight of those $160 tickets) – unlike here where courts look for reasons not to do that.

          And CA is one of the states that Germany doesn’t have a reciprocal agreement with re the driving test to get a license. Because Germany doesn’t think a CA driver license is evidence of any driving skill whatsoever.

  9. Forget speed-limit-free, I-5 in the central valley desperately just needs a third lane. You constantly have tomato truck drivers deciding that they really, really need to go 2 mph faster than the other tomato truck drivers going 55. Backs up traffic for miles, and it happens regularly enough that it never really clears. This exhausts the patience of the 80-90mph crowd so they are constantly flying up the right lane and squeezing in to the left in insanely dangerous fashion.

    1. Damned tomato trucks, who needs them anyway? Their drivers probably voted for Drumpf I get my tomatoes from a store not a truck! Fuck everyone outside of LA and SF!!!

      1. I love tomatoes and the workers involved in their logistics as much as the next person but taking 10 minutes to pass when going so slowly and for so little overall speed gain is a total dick move.

    2. And just why does CA still impose a 55-mph limit on vehicles with 3 axles or more?
      In most of the west, the norm is 70 – cars & trucks – and in some places 75 and/or 80, and we’re talking about 2 lane highways – ever been on US-95 between ‘Vegas and Reno?

      1. Because CA just has to be different.

        I’m in CDL school right now, and even the way CA calculates load limits per axle and axle gap distances is different from everywhere else in the country.

  10. “”expand the highways””

    Maybe the state could repair the highways it already has.

  11. A 2009 study from the University of California Transportation Center found that congestion that brings speeds down below 45 miles per hour on a freeway increases carbon emissions… But the same study found that carbon emissions start to increase once a driver starts hitting 60 to 65 miles per hour

    Just make it like the movie Speed. All cars must go exactly 55 mph all the time or they blow up and everyone dies. You could even build stadium seating on the roadways so that we could all watch. Charge admission and this bill pays for itself!

  12. Well it would help with Social Security liabilities.

  13. Didn’t Moorlach want two new lanes in each direction added, which in many miles of I-5, and “99”, double the number of lanes through the Central Valley?
    As to tolls:
    As much money has been diverted from highway building/maintenance by the incompetents in Sacramento for bike/jogging/equestrian paths/lanes over the years, the taxpayers of CA have more than paid for the expansion of these two primary arteries of transportation – not to mention the utter waste of funds squandered on Jerry’s Choo-Choo.

  14. Every highway should be no speed limit across the board.

  15. Are politicians really proposing to expand highways when AOC will ban all cars in a decade?
    Oh, right. California.

  16. “…After all, I-5 is an old road that will have to be rebuilt soon enough….”
    Most of I-5 is a real pain; 2 lanes each direction. If you pull out of the fast lane, you can get stuck in the slow lane for quite a while. But the fast lane can be really fast and you stand the chance of getting a fast-driving award.
    Really needs at least 3 lanes by now.

    “…But he thinks any new capacity should be funded by tolls?particularly if they’re going to let commuters travel at faster speeds. “I think if you are offering people a higher service than they can get right now, they should pay for it, and it should be tolled,” he says.”
    How about the gas taxes we already pay? To lazy to do a search right now, but I seem to remember there’s plenty of money there if they didn’t siphon it off for tricycle paths, cutesy ferry boats and choo-choos.

  17. I love that someone finally wants to reduce the stop/start cycle that wears out cars and people and wastes fuel and time. Now, I wish they would get rid of those damn red lights. There should only be green and flashing red. I should not have to wait at a red light if the way is clear.

    1. Speed bumps. Appropriately placed, they should be able to replace lights.

    2. Yeah, try a flashing red when two 3-lane arterial roads meet.

      I’m waiting for automated vehicles ala Minority Report. No lights.

  18. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.
    >>>>>>>>>> http://www.GeoSalary.com

  19. Two caveats:
    1) High speed driver training and/or testing.
    2) The automobile must be certified annually for sustained high-speed operation: i.e.
    > Z-rated tires in good condition.
    > Suspension and brake certification.
    > Factory certified automobile capable of sustained 120mph+ operation.

    I can just see some teenager swerving his rattling econobox into the right lane and flooring it.
    What could possibly go wrong?

  20. Two caveats:
    1) High speed driver training and/or testing.
    2) The automobile must be certified annually for sustained high-speed operation: i.e.
    > Z-rated tires in good condition.
    > Suspension and brake certification.
    > Factory certified automobile capable of sustained 120mph+ operation.

    I can just see some teenager swerving his rattling econobox into the right lane and flooring it.
    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. I hate it when I double post :-0

  21. “But the same study found that carbon emissions start to increase once a driver starts hitting 60 to 65 miles per hour, since engines need to burn more fuel to maintain those high speeds.”

    In part because styling takes precedence over aerodynamics.

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