Wisconsin 70 mph speed bill gets hearing

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/2/2013

Wisconsin lawmakers spent time this week discussing a bill that could increase speed limits on some highways around the state.

The Assembly Transportation Committee met on Tuesday, Oct. 1, to discuss a bill that would raise the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph on rural four-lane highways.

Specifically, AB389 would increase the speed limit for all vehicles on rural interstates, freeways and expressways. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation would be able to set lower speeds near cities.

Rep. Paul Tittl, R-Manitowoc, told committee members his bill “is about safety.”

He said the state would be well served to adopt speeds that more closely reflect the 85th percentile rule. The method is used to set speed limits at or below the speed at which 85 percent of traffic is moving.

According to WisDOT, all four interstates have 85th percentile speeds that exceed 70 mph. The highest rate is 78 mph on portions of Interstate 43.

Tittl said the change is also needed to avoid having the state fall behind other states in the region.

Wisconsin soon will be one of only two states west of the Appalachian Mountains with speeds for motorists below 70 mph; Oregon is the other. Eight states limit large trucks to speeds below 70 mph.

Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee, asked Tittl if he would consider increasing speeds for smaller vehicles and leaving truck speeds unchanged. Tittl said that option would conflict with the bill’s safety benefits.
“It flies in the face of getting as many people at the same speed as possible, which creates safer roadways,” Tittl said.

Three people spoke at the committee hearing, including Tittl and Gary Biller of the National Motorists Association. No one spoke in opposition to the change.

Biller told lawmakers that for the benefit of safety it’s important to set speed limits as close as possible to the prevailing traffic flow.

The original version of the bill listed sections of roadway where speed limits would increase. Tittl said he would remove the provision and leave the final decision up to WisDOT.

 “We want to allow the DOT time to conduct engineering and safety studies to identify the segments where the speed limit would remain at 65,” Tittl said. “These provisions ensure that the speed limit increase takes place in a safe and measured manner only where it’s appropriate.”

The committee hasn’t scheduled a vote on the bill.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Wisconsin, click here.