New Jersey DOT says no to split speed limits

| 2/24/2003

The New Jersey Department of Transportation has taken a proposal to use split speed limits on the state’s highways off the table, a spokeswoman for the DOT told Land Line Feb. 20.

The dual speed limit proposal would have placed cars at 65 mph while trucks would have been restricted to 55 mph.

Anna Farneski, spokeswoman for the DOT, said a committee that included officials from the trucking industry, AAA, the New Jersey DOT, the state police, the Federal Highway Administration and other transportation related groups had considered the idea, but rejected it in early February after examining studies on the topic.

The committee was formed at the request of Gov. James McGreevey in November after three crashes involving cars and tractor-trailers Nov. 20 resulted in three deaths. Officials in New Jersey have indicated that at least two of the accidents were not the fault of the truckdrivers.

“The goal was to make it a collaborative effort, to draw on everyone’s expertise,” Farenski said.

The committee decided to tackle highway safety through three avenues: enforcement, education and engineering. After meeting for several months and looking at a number of studies regarding split speed limits, including some developed by AAA, the panel decided against implementing split speed limits on the state’s highways.

“They didn’t feel that a dual speed limit would be effective here in New Jersey,” Farneski said. “Our highways are narrower than other states; California has it, but California has notoriously wide interstates, and the interchanges are very spaced out.

“Here, they’re not. We have narrow highways and the interchanges are very close,” she said. “We were afraid this would create more problems, more accidents by having the dual truck speed limit. We simply have too many vehicles on our roads for this to be effective.”

The state made no announcement regarding the decision, Farneski said. The action came to light after a local reporter contacted the DOT regarding the dual speed limits.

Despite the DOT’s action, the battle over split speeds in the state may not be over yet.

Earlier this year, state Assemblywoman Connie Myers, R-Hunterdon and Warren counties, introduced A3127, a bill that would create a split speed limit in the state, slowing trucks from 65 mph to 55 mph on New Jersey highways.

Myers indicated through a spokeswoman that the DOT’s decision would have no effect on her support of the bill, which is now before the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Farneski said if the bill passed, the DOT would then implement and enforce the split speed limits in the state. While the DOT has decided not to implement the split on its own, Transportation Commission Jack Lettiere does not typically take a position on bills in the General Assembly.

The three accidents that occurred Nov. 20 spurred considerable public reaction in New Jersey. Sgt. Kevin Rehmann of the New Jersey State Police said one person died in a crash on Route 78 in Lebanon; no one was hurt in the second wreck, on I-80, which held up traffic for hours; and the third wreck ended with two people dead on Route 287 in Franklin Township.

Alexandria Sica, a spokeswoman for NJDOT, told Land Line earlier that officials in the DOT committee did not find any common problem that had a role in the three accidents, or any indication that the tractor-trailers involved violated safety rules.

by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor