SPECIAL REPORT: Ohio bill on uniform speeds, transportation budget

| 3/31/2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 – A conference committee made up of select members of the Ohio House and Senate reached a deal Monday, March 30, on a two-year, $9.6 billion transportation budget. For truckers, the most notable provision in the bill would do away with split speed limits on interstates.

The breakthrough in policy in Ohio was welcome news for officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“The only speed limit policy that makes sense is to have all vehicles traveling at the same speed. It is a welcome change in Ohio that is long overdue,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice-president. “We are appreciative of the lawmakers recognizing the importance of this issue and once and for all resolving it.”

After days of intense negotiations, Senate Republicans and House Democrats were able to work out their differences on the transportation plan. The full House and Senate are expected to vote on the budget as early as Wednesday, April 1, and Gov. Ted Strickland plans to sign it.

One change that made it through the negotiation process was inclusion of an amendment to eliminate the provision in Ohio law that set up a slower speed on interstates for vehicles with a gross weight of more than 8,000 pounds. Speed limits on other roadways would be unchanged.

It will be up to the governor whether to approve the speed provision.

Currently, large vehicles are required to travel 55 mph – 10 mph below the 65 mph limit for other vehicles. All vehicles traveling on interstates could drive 65 mph.

Owner-operator and OOIDA member Lewie Pugh of Freeport, OH, was encouraged by the news of inclusion of the uniform speed provision. He said that truckers in the state have touted the safety benefits of all vehicles traveling the same speed for years.
“I think it’s a great thing in the name of safety for everybody. It will help move commerce and help move traffic more freely in the state,” Pugh said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Sen. Steve Buehrer, R-Delta, echoed those sentiments. Buehrer said he offered the amendment to remove the split-speed provision from state law because there are some very positive safety implications to uniform speeds.

Buehrer, a member of the six-person conference committee, cited recent testimony from George Distel, executive director of the Ohio Turnpike Commission, about the success the turnpike has had increasing the speed limit to 65 mph for trucks.

“Initially there were some concerns about what that would do, but I think the experience has been positive,” Buehrer told Land Line. “It’s probably time to do that on the interstates here in Ohio.”

Opponents, including the Ohio State Police, want no part of that. They say that faster trucks lead to more problems.

However, research collected by OOIDA concludes that the difference in vehicle speeds, not excessive speed, contributes to wrecks. Collisions occur when trucks and cars must change lanes and pass more frequently.

The Association issued multiple Calls to Action on the effort to eliminate split speed limits.

Left off the final version were House provisions to authorize speed cameras in construction zones and to permit police to pull over drivers for not buckling up. Senate Republicans balked at their inclusion.

Also left out of the bill were provisions allowing local governments to set up authorities that would build new roads and lanes and charge drivers tolls for using them.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Ohio 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.