Maryland lawmakers endorse 70 mph speeds

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/13/2015

The top speed on certain Maryland roadways could soon be on the rise.

The House voted 126-10 to advance a bill that would open the door to increasing interstate and state expressway speeds from 65 mph to 70 mph. Senate lawmakers voted 39-7 in mid-February to support the same speed increase.

Both chambers must sign off on the same bill before it moves to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk.

Identical bills, HB194 and SB44, would leave the final decision on whether to increase speeds to the State Highway Administration. The expense to conduct a highway speed engineering study is estimated to be $350,000.

Critics say that increasing vehicle speeds in Maryland could lead to more crashes and fatalities.

Supporters say the state would be well served to adopt the 85th percentile speed rule. The method is used to set speed limits at or below the speed at which 85 percent of traffic is moving.

“This is a very simple bill. It allows the State Highway Administration to look at the speed limits on interstate highways or expressways,” Sen. George Edwards, R-Garrett, testified during a recent Senate committee hearing. “It isn’t mandatory. If they think it’s safe enough they can raise the speed limit from 65 to 70 mph.”

He added that most interstates are built for 70 mph speed limits.

Neighboring Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia already have 70 mph speeds for all vehicles posted on at least some stretches of roadways. Maine and New Hampshire are the only other Northeastern states to permit drivers to travel 70 mph or more.

Another Maryland bill would increase vehicle speeds on the Intercounty Connector in the Washington suburbs from 60 mph to 65 mph.

Speeds on the 18.8-mile toll road were increased from 55 mph to 60 mph two years ago. Since then, an engineering study has found the median speed on the roadway increased from about 63 mph to 64 mph.

Sponsored by Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, HB814 is in the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

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