Will Wisconsin do away with uniform speeds?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/16/2013

A bill halfway through the Wisconsin statehouse to increase speed limits on state highways could leave truck speeds unchanged. OOIDA leadership says it’s imperative for road safety that any changes made to driving speeds promote uniformity.

The Assembly voted 63-32 on Tuesday, Oct. 15, to advance to the Senate 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 on rural interstates, freeways and expressways. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation would make the final decision on sections of roadway where speed increases would be suitable.

The agency would have six months to change interstate speeds.

Rep. Paul Tittl, R-Manitowoc, said that safety studies to determine where speeds could be safely increased on other four-lane highways could take up to one year.

“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 in recent remarks. “These provisions ensure that the speed limit increase takes place in a safe and measured manner only where it’s appropriate.”

Tittl did make a change to his bill on the Assembly floor. Spurred by opposition from Green Bay, Wis.-based Schneider National, the chamber approved an amendment by voice vote that would authorize WisDOT to consider whether the maximum speed for large trucks should remain at 65 mph.

Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, referred to an email from Thomas Vandenberg, senior assistant general counsel for the trucking company, which cautioned lawmakers about the ramifications to road safety and fuel efficiency from increased speed limits.

Tittl told lawmakers during floor discussion that the bill isn’t just about getting from one place to another more quickly. He cited traffic safety experts who say the change could help to make roadways safer.

During a committee hearing early this month Tittl 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.

In addition to safety concerns, opponents also complained about fast-tracking the bill through the chamber in less than one month.

“It’s a good reason to have this bill slowed down (no pun intended),” said Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson.

Tittl said that failure to act would keep the state 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; the other is Oregon. Eight states limit large trucks to speeds below 70 mph.

AB389 is awaiting assignment to committee in the Senate.

OOIDA encourages Wisconsin truckers to contact their state Senators about the importance of maintaining uniform speeds on the state’s roadways.

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

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