O'Connell's Street Without Joy

Anthony Pignataro: I saw a lot of things driving into San Luis Obispo County this morning — rolling hills, wineries, a road sign indicating bear-crossing, a California Highway Patrolman rousting a homeless man from a freeway gully, the intersection where James died in 1955 and something strange and disconcerting called “The Jack O’Connell Highway.”

How could this be? I asked myself as I drove past the sign, which marks a stretch of Highway 46 near the tiny town of Cholame. Not only is he still alive, but he’s also still in government — he’s the current state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Turns out the road is an honor for something O’Connell did while a state senator. Usually highways get named after cops killed in the line of duty, but in this case, the road name comes from a slightly different action.

“Jack O’Connell was a state senator authored the resolution that made that segment of Route 46 a double-fine zone as part of an overall safety enforcement effort on the route,” states cahighways.org, a website billed as providing “everything you ever wanted to know about numbered highways in California.

Put simply, the Legislature named a stretch of road after O’Connell because he pushed through a bill that doubled fines on that road.

How heroic.

Posted Sept. 7, 2010

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