Iowa governor OKs speed boost

| Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Starting this summer, drivers on certain stretches of Iowa interstates will get the go ahead to hold down the accelerator a little further.

Gov. Tom Vilsack signed legislation Tuesday, April 19, to raise the speed limit on rural interstate highways in Iowa from 65 mph to 70 mph. In exchange, there will be a heftier price to pay if speed limits are exceeded.

The governor, who has opposed higher speed limits in the past, said he would direct the Iowa State Patrol to strictly enforce the 70 mph limit, which takes effect July 1.

“With strict enforcement, we shouldn’t see increased accidents,” he told The Associated Press.

The new speeding fines will raise an estimated $7.6 million a year to help pay for the state’s court system.

The higher fines only apply to citations on roads posted at 55 mph and above. One of the most common fines, for exceeding the speed limit by 6 to 10 mph, will be $82, up from $43.

Vilsack used his line-item veto power to delete a portion of the measure that would have set aside up to $800,000 a year for new cars for the Iowa State Patrol.

“We’re not going to link fines with funding for the Department of Public Safety,” the governor told gathered news media after signing the bill – HF826. He asked lawmakers to come up with that money from the state’s general budget.

The measure squeaked through the Legislature earlier this year, gaining passage in the House on a 51-49 vote and Senate approval on a 27-23 vote.

As the bill moved through the House and Senate, opponents contended the higher limit would lead to more accidents. Supporters said the measure was about safety – ensuring more vehicles on the road travel at similar speeds.

Rep. Dave Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, a retired trooper who guided the bill through the House, recently told The Quad-City Times studies have shown that drivers travel interstate highways in Iowa at an average speed of 71 mph regardless of whether the posted speed limit is 65 or 70.

As a condition of the bill’s passage into law, the Iowa Department of Transportation will review all rural interstates to find areas where a higher speed could be dangerous. The study should be finished by July 1, when the change takes effect.

It will cost the state $124,000 to update all 450 speed limit signs, The AP reported. The money to change the postings will come out of a DOT sign budget.

Among Iowa’s neighbors, Wisconsin has a 65 mph limit, Minnesota and Missouri allow drivers to travel 70 mph, and Nebraska and South Dakota have a 75 mph limit. Illinois has a 65 mph limit for cars and 55 mph limit for trucks.

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