SPECIAL REPORT: Illinois lawmakers advance bills to eliminate split speeds

| 3/27/2009

Friday, March 27, 2009 – Illinois House and Senate lawmakers approved bills Thursday, March 26, to bring an end to split speed limits on rural, interstate highways.

The results were welcome news for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and other trucking industry officials, which have fought for passage of the legislation for years. They cite federal statistics showing that split speed limits lead to more accidents.

Illinois law now requires large vehicles to travel 10 mph below the 65 mph speed limit for other vehicles. House lawmakers voted 77-35 to advance a bill – HB3956 – that would allow vehicles weighing more than 8,000 pounds to travel 65 mph on highways outside Chicago and the five surrounding “collar” counties.

The Senate voted 38-14 to approve a similar plan – SB1467 – that exempts only the Chicago area.

Both efforts now move to the opposite side of the statehouse for further consideration. Once the two chambers approve identical versions, the measure will be sent to Gov. Pat Quinn.

After years of failed attempts to have former Gov. Rod Blagojevich sign legislation into law to change the speed rule, supporters are hopeful the proposal might stand a better chance now of becoming law.

Just how good that chance might be is unclear because Quinn hasn’t taken a position on the issue.

Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Mount Sterling, says eliminating the speed gap would improve safety on roadways, as well as benefit interstate commerce.

“The continuous movement of traffic would really be a boost for transportation and economic development. Safety would not be hindered,” Tracy told Land Line.

Tracy also pointed out that with the 55 mph limit a trucker cannot legally complete a turnaround from Chicago to St. Louis in one day.

“We are impeding his ability to work. We are impeding his ability to move product,” she said.

Advancement of the legislation is sure to be well received by Illinois truckers and other professional drivers who travel the state.

Truck driver and OOIDA member Bob Stempinski of Beecher, IL, talked about the impact the long overdue change would have on safety.

“The split speed limit has always been terrible because trucks are always in the way no matter where they’re at. Hopefully, if everybody is going to run 65 it’ll be a big help. It should make it a lot safer,” Stempinski toldLand Line.

The latest action marks the fifth time in recent years that legislation to minimize or eliminate the speed gap between cars and trucks has been offered at the statehouse.

Two years ago, House and Senate lawmakers sent a uniform speed limit bill to Blagojevich. As was the case with the previous efforts, the margin of support in both chambers was more than the two-thirds majority needed for a veto override.

In his veto message, the governor made it clear he didn’t want trucks traveling at higher rates of speed because of safety concerns. Enough lawmakers switched their votes to derail the override attempts.

The House and Senate votes this week also were by veto-proof margins.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Illinois in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.