Montana bills would revise rules on speed limits, megaloads

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/24/2015

Multiple Montana bills would make changes to rules that cover speed limits on some of the state’s busiest roadways and revise rules on megaloads.

One Senate bill would authorize faster travel on portions of the state’s fastest roadways – while maintaining a speed differential between cars and trucks.

State law now permits car drivers to travel 75 mph on rural stretches of interstate while truck drivers are limited to 65 mph. All vehicles can travel 65 mph along urban stretches of interstate.

Sen. Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, has introduced a bill that would authorize the Montana Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit for cars to 80 mph on specific portions of non-urban stretches of Interstates 90, 94 and 15 while truck speeds would be increased to 70 mph.

Specifically, MDT could set the faster speeds along the following stretches:

  • I-90 from the Missoula area to the Idaho line;
  • I-90 between the Three Forks area to Butte;
  • I-90 from the Billings area to Belgrade;
  • I-94 from Custer to Treasure County; and
  • I-15 from the I-90 interchange east of Butte to Lewis and Clark County.

Sales’ bill, SB375, is scheduled for a March 5 hearing in the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee.

A similar bill from Rep. Mike Miller, R-Helmville, has been tabled by the House Transportation Committee. HB480 sought to permit cars and trucks to travel 80 mph and 70 mph along rural portions of interstate.

The bill didn’t specify which stretches of roadway could be affected.

A separate provision sought to increase truck speeds along secondary highways from 60 mph to 70 mph. The change would make car and truck speeds uniform on the affected roadways.

One more failed bill, SB228, called for increasing speeds for cars to 85 mph on rural stretches of interstate and 80 mph on other specified highways. Truck speeds, however, would have remained unchanged.

Officials at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association oppose efforts that maintain a differential in car and truck speeds.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA’s director of state legislative affairs, has said that roadways are safer when all vehicles are permitted to travel at the same rate of speed.

One House-approved bill would revise rules related to so-called megaloads.

HB222 would prohibit local governments from collecting fees to move affected loads along state-managed highways.

Advocates say the rule change needs to be made to avoid excessive permit fees such as the $300 fee charged by the city of Missoula. Others say the fees charged for shipping companies to access state highways is bad business.

The bill awaits further consideration on the Senate floor.

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