SPECIAL REPORT: Illinois lawmakers considering uniform speed bill

| 10/1/2007

Monday, Oct. 1, 2007 – Lawmakers in Illinois head back to the capitol this week for a special session that will focus on legislation vetoed by the governor. One bill expected to come up for consideration could bring an end to split speed limits in the state.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich used his veto stamp this summer on a bill that sought to eliminate slower speed limits on rural interstates for vehicles weighing more than 8,000 pounds. Currently, those vehicles are required to travel 10 mph below the 65 mph speed limit for other vehicles.

The vetoed bill – SB540 – would allow the Illinois Department of Transportation to increase large truck speeds to as much as 65 mph.

This spring marked the third time in recent years that 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 this year was more than the two-thirds majority needed for a veto override. However, on the two previous attempts, some lawmakers who voted to abolish the split speed limit did not carry through when the governor vetoed the legislation.

In his veto message this time, the governor made it clear he doesn’t want trucks traveling at higher rates of speed.

“This bill compromises safety by allowing trucks to travel at higher speeds. I remain opposed to increasing the speed limit to 65 miles per hour for large trucks,” Blagojevich wrote.

Supporters of the bill cite federal statistics showing that split speed limits actually lead to more accidents.

Rep. Robert Flider, D-Decatur, the bill’s House sponsor, cited those concerns as reasoning for taking up the effort.

“Studies have shown that uniform speed limits are safer in many instances. There are occurrences of a car driver coming upon a truck and suddenly realizing that truck is driving a lot slower. That can create some challenges on a busy highway,” Flider said. “It seems to me, and I think studies have concluded, uniform speed limits actually would be safer as long as everybody follows the speed limit.”

State transportation officials are unmoved by such information. They are asking legislators to uphold the governor’s veto of the bill. They refer to data from the Illinois Department of Transportation that shows nearly 140 people died in truck-related crashes in the state a year ago, The Southern Illinoisan reported. That number is down from an average of about 177 people who have been killed in truck-related crashes on roadways in the state in each of the past 10 years.

In the days leading up to the veto session, Blagojevich has enlisted the help of groups such as AAA Chicago to voice opposition to any override attempt.

Advocates for uniform speeds say the recent moves by opponents of the bill to try and sway lawmakers to switch their votes is not unexpected.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said history on the issue indicates that information offered to lawmakers to change their support will be something for advocates of uniform speeds to contend with.

“We know from previous experience that the basis for which the governor used to conclude a veto was in order will be misinformation,” Spencer said.

“Those who perpetuate that misinformation also will be communicating to lawmakers to discourage them from overriding the veto. Misinformation should not rule the day.”

An override of the governor’s veto would take 36 votes in the Senate. House lawmakers would need 71 votes. The bill passed in both chambers with 45 votes and 90 votes, respectively.

The special session is scheduled to run from Oct. 2-12.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Illinois in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor