SPECIAL REPORT: Ohio split speed limits eliminated

| 4/2/2009

Thursday, April 2, 2009 – Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland signed a two-year, $9.6 billion transportation budget Wednesday. The date may have been April 1, but lawmakers weren’t fooling around by including a provision that does away with split speed limits on interstates effective July 1.

The breakthrough in policy in Ohio was welcome news for truckers.

“The only speed limit policy that makes sense is to have all vehicles traveling at the same speed. It is a welcome change in Ohio that is long overdue,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice-president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“We are appreciative of the lawmakers recognizing the importance of this issue and once and for all resolving it.”

After days of intense negotiations, Senate Republicans and House Democrats meeting in a conference committee were able to work out their differences on the transportation plan. The full House and Senate approved the budget earlier in the day, setting the stage for Strickland to sign it into law.

Among the changes endorsed by lawmakers is the elimination of the provision in Ohio law that set up a slower speed on interstates for vehicles with a gross weight of more than 8,000 pounds. Speed limits on other roadways will remain unchanged.

Currently, large vehicles are required to travel 55 mph – 10 mph below the 65 mph limit for other vehicles. With the bill’s passage, all vehicles traveling on interstates soon will be cleared to drive 65 mph.

Owner-operator and OOIDA member Lewie Pugh of Freeport, OH, was pleased to hear about the action of lawmakers. He said that truckers in the state have touted the safety benefits of all vehicles traveling the same speed for years.
“I think it’s a great thing in the name of safety for everybody. It will help move commerce and help move traffic more freely in the state,” Pugh said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

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

Buehrer, a member of the six-person conference 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.”

Opponents, including the Ohio Highway Patrol, wanted no part of that. They said 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.

Left off the final version were provisions to authorize speed cameras in construction zones and permitting police to pull over drivers for not buckling up.

Sen. Tom Patton, R-Strongsville, told lawmakers the cameras amounted to nothing more than an attempt to generate revenue. A member of the conference committee, Patton said law enforcement would be better served by spending time on highways.

Among the provisions affected by line item vetoes issued by Strickland was an effort to prohibit overweight and overdimension permit fee increases from taking effect July 1.

“This provision deprives the Department of revenues that are necessary to maintain operations and preserve the Ohio transportation system. Therefore, this veto is in the public interest,” Strickland said in a veto statement.

Also removed from the budget was a provision establishing a grant program for diesel emission reduction to access funds from the Federal Highway Administration. The governor said the provision would negatively affect the Ohio Department of Transportation’s operations because it would divert a large portion of available flexible funding to specific purposes.

Instead, Strickland directed ODOT to dedicate $5 million toward a diesel emissions reduction program “for purposes consistent with the intent of the legislation.” He said the funding will provide assistance to small businesses and “disadvantaged business enterprises.”

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.