Wisconsin moves one step closer to 70 mph speeds

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/23/2015

Wisconsin Assembly lawmakers have given the thumbs up to a plan to increase speed limits for all vehicles on highways around the state.

The Assembly voted 76-22 last week to advance a bill to authorize the speed limit to be increased from 65 to 70 mph on rural interstates, U.S. 41 and portions of U.S. 51, 53 and 141.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation would make the final decision on sections of roadway where speed increases would be suitable. The changes are estimated to cost the state $238,663 to update signage on affected roadways.

Rep. Paul Tittl, R-Manitowoc, says the state DOT has studied the issue and found that average speeds for all vehicles on many highways around the state are already in excess of 70 mph. However, he says the effort to authorize a speed increase isn’t just about getting from one place to another faster.

“This is all about safety. The number one reason this bill was brought about is safety,” Tittl told Assembly lawmakers. He has also said that increasing the speed limit can reduce congestion that often contributes to unsafe driving and accidents.

In 2013, Assembly lawmakers approved a similar version that authorized WisDOT to consider whether the maximum speed for large trucks should remain at 65 mph. The bill failed to get out of a Senate committee.

Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, tried again this year to have the truck provision added but it was rejected in committee.

Spiros said during floor discussion on the bill his biggest concern is the amount of time it takes for a large truck to come to a stop. He referred to data about the stopping distance for a truck traveling 70 mph on snow or ice-covered pavement.

“Hopefully we won’t have people out there driving that fast in un-ideal driving conditions,” Spiros said.

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association say that roadways are safer when all vehicles are permitted to travel at the same rate of speed.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA’s director of state legislative affairs, said that differential speed limits create more interactions between cars and trucks, which can potentially lead to an increase in the number and severity of accidents.

Tittl said that Wisconsin needs to make the change in order to keep up with other states. He also points out that prior to the federal government setting the national speed limit at 55 mph in 1973 Wisconsin speeds for all vehicles were set at 70 mph.

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

The bill, AB27, awaits assignment to committee in the Senate.

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

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