Ten states mull speed limit changes

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/13/2013

Speed limit changes are getting a lot of attention this spring in statehouses from coast to coast. OOIDA leadership says it’s imperative for road safety that any changes made to driving speeds promote uniformity.

A push is underway in Ohio to allow truckers and other drivers in certain areas to travel the same speed as they can on the Ohio Turnpike and in neighboring states.

The Senate voted Wednesday, March 13, to approve the state’s transportation budget bill. It includes a provision to increase speed limits on rural portions of interstates from 65 mph to 70 mph. The bill now moves to the House.

Speeds were last altered on Ohio interstates in 2009. At that time, truck speeds were increased from 55 mph to 65 mph – the same speed as other vehicles.

Two years ago the Ohio Turnpike raised speeds for all vehicles from 65 mph to 70 mph. Turnpike officials credit the 5 mph increase for an improved safety record on the 241-mile roadway.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer has noted that the Ohio bill would set the posted limit at the speed most vehicles already travel.

“The majority of travelers drive at a speed they believe to be prudent and safe. For truckers and other drivers that equates to traveling at about 70 mph,” he said.

Described as “the coolest bill of the year” by one Utah state lawmaker, a bill on the governor’s desk would authorize 80 mph speeds on more stretches of state roadways.

Utah law now authorizes 75 mph speeds on interstates and other limited access roadways in rural areas. However, since 2009 a stretch of Interstate 15 has been posted at 80 mph.

HB83 would expand the portion of I-15 where speeds can reach 80 mph. It would also add stretches of Interstates 80 and 84.

Addressing concerns about higher speeds, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said that cars and trucks would continue to drive at or near the same speed they now travel.

He said that 85 percent of drivers on the affected stretch of I-80 drive 83 mph – up from 82 mph before the change.

“The speed would be set at the speed limit that people want to drive,” Dunnigan told lawmakers. “It is the natural flow.”

Dunnigan also addressed concerns about air quality. He said that studies show that most vehicles on the road today emit the same amount of pollution when they are driving 85 mph as they would at 55 mph.

In neighboring Nevada, advocates for higher speeds have used Utah’s arguments for higher speeds to boost a similar effort in the Silver State.

A bill from Sen. Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, would authorize 85 mph speeds on stretches of highway deemed appropriate by the state DOT – up from 75 mph.

Staffer Jerry Stacy said the change would aid truckers who have a limited number of hours in the day that they can be behind the wheel.

“We are a pretty big state with a lot of rural roads,” Stacy told Land Line. “The Nevada DOT would like the autonomy to raise speeds in some areas where it is deemed safe.”

SB191 received initial consideration today in the Senate Transportation Committee.

The Mississippi House voted in favor of an amended Senate bill that includes a provision to increase interstate speeds to 75 mph – up from 70 mph. State Rep. Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose, said that many travelers in the state are already driving 75 mph. He wants to make sure they’re doing it legally.

SB2223 awaits Senate consideration of changes before it can advance to the governor’s desk.

Two Illinois bills would add the state to the list of 25 states that authorize all vehicles to travel at least 70 mph. HB2573 and SB2356 seek to raise the speed limit from 65 mph on rural interstate highways. Cook and the “collar” counties surrounding Chicago would be exempt from the rule change.

In contrast two efforts around the country to promote uniformity in setting speeds, West Virginia lawmakers soon could consider a bill that would impose differential speeds on some roadways. HB2458 would authorize motorists and small trucks to travel up to 75 mph on rural interstates. All other vehicles would be limited to 70 mph.

OOIDA’s Spencer says that requiring trucks to drive at speeds slower than other vehicles does not promote safety.

“It does exactly the opposite by requiring vehicles to be constantly in conflict with each other,” Spencer said.

One more bill, HB2472, would authorize increases for all vehicles from 60 mph to 70 mph on the West Virginia Turnpike from milepost 60 to milepost 85. Other portions of the roadway already are posted at 70 mph.

Efforts to boost speeds also are underway along the East Coast. In Connecticut, multiple bills would increase posted speeds on multi-lane, limited access highways to 75 mph – up from 65 mph. One bill would increase speeding fines by 15 percent.

“Increasing the speed limit and stricter enforcement of speeding above the increased limit will allow state police to more easily manage the speeding situation we have today on our state’s highways,” Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, testified.

The New Hampshire House is expected to vote Wednesday, March 13, on a bill that would increase interstates speeds on a portion of Interstate 93. HB146 would increase speeds from 65 mph to 70 mph from mile marker 45 to the Vermont border.

Rep. Brian Rhodes, D-Nashau, notes that the affected stretch is a rural section of the interstate that has been constructed to support a speed limit of 70 mph.

In Maine, one bill would boost speeds on a segment of Interstate 295. LD654 would increase speeds from 65 mph to 75 mph from the town of Scarborough to the town of West Gardiner.

Maryland lawmakers continue to consider multiple efforts to increase vehicle speeds.

One bill would increase vehicle speeds from 65 mph to 70 mph on interstates, state expressways and some other highways. Vehicle speeds on the Intercounty Connector would also increase from 55 mph to 70 mph. Another bill would authorize speeds up to 75 mph on eligible roadways. One more bill would limit the 5 mph boost to Interstate 68.

Editor’s Note: You are welcome to share your thoughts with us about this story. Comments may be sent to state_legislative_editor@ooida.com.

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