Ohio lawmakers take up transportation budget, uniform speeds

| 3/23/2009

Negotiations are expected to begin in the Ohio General Assembly Tuesday, March 24, on a two-year transportation plan. Among the notable provisions in the bill is a measure that would do away with split speed limits on interstates.

A conference committee made up of select members of the House and Senate is preparing to gather several times over the next few days to work out their differences on the transportation budget that underwent numerous revisions in the Senate a week ago.

Among the changes made to the bill was inclusion of an amendment to eliminate the provision in Ohio law that set up a slower speed for vehicles with a gross weight of more than 8,000 pounds.

Currently, large vehicles are required to travel 55 mph – 10 mph below the 65 mph limit for other vehicles. All vehicles could drive 65 mph.

Sen. Steve Buehrer, R-Delta, said he offered the amendment to remove the split-speed provision from state law because there are some very positive safety implications to uniform speeds.

Buehrer, vice chairman of the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee, cited recent testimony from George Distel, executive director of the Ohio Turnpike Commission, about the success the turnpike has had increasing the speed limit to 65 mph for trucks.

“Initially there were some concerns about what that would do, but I think the experience has been positive,” Buehrer told Land Line. “It’s probably time to do that on the interstates here in Ohio.”

Other backers for uniform speeds in the state say that studies show highways are safer when all drivers travel at the same general rate of speed.

That sentiment was echoed by officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“We’re pleased with the action of lawmakers,” Todd Spencer, OOIDA’s executive vice-president, told Land Line. “Clearly, the speed policy needs to have all vehicles traveling at the same speed. That’s going to produce the safest highways.”

Opponents, including the Ohio State Police, say that faster trucks lead to more problems.

However, research collected by OOIDA concludes that the difference in vehicle speeds, not excessive speed, contributes to accidents. Collisions occur when trucks and cars must change lanes and pass more frequently.

The Association issued multiple Calls to Action on the effort to eliminate split speed limits. To read the most recent e-mail, click here.

Other provisions of interest added to the bill in the Senate include prohibiting overweight and overdimension permit fee increases from taking effect July 1 and creating a task force to look at the entire permit process.

Removed from the bill was a provision to authorize speed cameras in construction zones, mandating headlight use when driving in bad weather, and permitting police to pull over drivers for not buckling up.

The Senate also took out provisions allowing local governments to set up authorities that would build new roads and lanes and charge drivers tolls for using them.

As the conference committee readies to negotiate for inclusion of the provisions they want attached to the two-year budget, Buehrer encourages truckers to make sure their voices are heard on uniform speeds.

“Write or call the governor’s office, or call the Democrat speaker of the House, who will be on the other side of our negotiations, and tell them how important this is and it’s been an issue well debated for many years in Ohio. It’s time to do the right thing in terms of safety and uniformity of speeds,” Buehrer said.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Ohio in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.