Six states consider faster speeds

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, January 09, 2014

On the heels of recent action to increase speeds along certain roadways in states that include Illinois and Pennsylvania, state lawmakers across the country are taking steps to adopt faster speeds. Professional drivers are closely monitoring legislative activity on the issue.

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association say it’s imperative for road safety that any changes made to driving speeds promote uniformity.

A Wyoming bill would authorize 80 mph speeds for truckers and other drivers on certain highway segments – up from 75 mph.

Neighboring Utah and Texas are the only states that allow vehicles to travel 80 mph or higher on portions of roadway.

House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, is the sponsor of a bill – HB12 – that would require the Wyoming Department of Transportation to study what sections of interstate highway could handle the higher speed limit.

Lubnau has said he believes the switch could improve safety on roads because the disparity in vehicle speeds would be reduced. He referred to research collected from Utah and Texas that shows highways posted at 80 mph have fewer accidents because vehicles travel at similar speeds.

Critics say that raising the speed limit would result in people driving even faster than they already drive. Also, they say that crashes become more severe the faster vehicles are traveling.

The state of Wyoming estimates it would cost $110,000 to study the issue and change signage. Specifically, it would cost $30,000 to perform an engineering study to identify sections of interstate that would accommodate 80 mph speeds. Another $80,000 would be necessary to change as many as 330 speed limit signs and 20 non-electronic variable message signs.

A two-thirds majority is required to pass the bill during this year’s legislative budget session that begins Feb. 10. Non-budget bills must receive a supermajority to advance to the governor’s desk.

In Missouri, a new bill would increase speed limits on rural roadways from 70 mph to 75 mph.

Rep. Mike Kelley, R-Lamar, introduced the bill – HB1215 – that would authorize speeds for all vehicles to be increased on rural stretches of interstate and divided four-lane highways.

The change would match Missouri with neighboring Kansas’ highest posted speed. Since the Sunflower State made the switch from 70 to 75 mph in 2011, the Kansas Department of Transportation reports fewer traffic deaths.

New York state Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda wants to authorize 75 mph speeds as well.

The Bronx Democrat offered a bill that would permit the transportation commissioner to raise the 65 mph speed limit to 75 mph on any interstate highway, including the New York Thruway.

Speeds could also be increased from 55 to 65 mph on divided highways with at least four lanes.

The Bronx Democrat wrote in a bill memo studies show that fewer wrecks occur when the speed limit is increased.

Advocates say that speeds should be set at a rate that more closely reflects the 85th percentile rule. In most instances, that amounts to a speed of about 73 mph.

A Florida bill that is expected to get attention next week at the statehouse could increase the posted speed on various highways for all vehicles.

Florida law authorizes cars and trucks to travel 70 mph on interstates. Drivers can travel 65 mph on highways with a divided median and 60 mph on other roadways.

The Senate Transportation Committee is scheduled to consider a bill Jan. 16 that would increase allowable speeds on the types of highway by 5 mph to 75, 70 and 65 mph, respectively.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, says the change would bring the speed limit more into line with how fast traffic already travels in the state.

The Florida Department of Transportation would have the final say on any speed changes.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said that a 5 mph increase is unlikely to hinder road safety, “but we’ll let the experts do their job.”

One Kentucky bill would increase speeds on four-lane highways from 55 to 65 mph where feasible.

Multiple chambers of commerce in southwest Kentucky have requested the change, citing the benefits of allowing commerce to move more quickly.

In Wisconsin, a bill stalled halfway through the statehouse that calls for faster speed limits on rural interstates but could leave truck speeds unchanged. Specifically, the bill would raise the speed limit from 65 to 70 mph.

Rep. Paul Tittl, R-Manitowoc, previously told Land Line the change is needed to keep up with other states that already authorize vehicles to travel at least 70 mph.

“We are an island all the way from Oregon to Pennsylvania,” Tittl said.

He said the Wisconsin Department of Transportation would make the final decision on sections of interstate where speed increases would be suitable.

A change made to the bill would authorize WisDOT to consider whether the maximum speed for large trucks should remain at 65 mph.

Tittl said the provision was a compromise with others who oppose a speed limit increase for large trucks.

The bill stalled in the Senate late last year after being approved in the Assembly with the truck provision. It could still come up for consideration once the Legislature reconvenes on Tuesday, Jan. 14.

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