North Dakota bills would bump speeds to 80 mph

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/12/2017

A pursuit is underway at the North Dakota statehouse to increase speed limits for all drivers along certain highways in the state. Other notable changes being discussed in the Legislature would revise how the state sets speeding fines and the punishment for accidentally striking a pedestrian in the roadway.

State law now authorizes speeds of 75 mph on Interstates 29 and 94. Speeds along four-lane divided highways are set at 70 mph. Two-lane highways are posted at 65 mph.

The Senate Transportation Committee is scheduled to discuss a bill on Thursday, Jan. 12, to boost speeds for all vehicles traveling along the interstate by 5 mph to 80 mph. Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, is the bill sponsor and committee chairman.

Advocates say it makes sense to increase speeds, because many drivers already cruise along at the higher rate. Others say it is good for the state’s economy, and it would bring them up to speed with neighboring states.

Four states – Nevada, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming – already permit all vehicles to travel at 80 mph on certain highways. In Idaho, Montana and Texas, motorists are allowed to drive at least 80 mph while trucks are limited to lower speeds.

Truckers have voiced concern that higher speed limits result in a wider disparity between the posted speed and how fast many speed-limited trucks can travel.

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

Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, has 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.

He adds that “they are also a contributing factor to increased congestion and inefficiencies with local, regional, and national goods movement.”

A fiscal note attached to SB2057 shows it would cost the state an estimated $326.8 million to make needed changes along I-29 and I-94 to accommodate faster travel. Changes would include reshaping some horizontal and vertical curves; lengthening interchange ramps and acceleration or deceleration lanes; and replacing speed limit signs.

A separate bill that includes authorization for 80 mph speeds would also raise speeds along four-lane divided highways and two-lane highways to 75 and 70 mph, respectively. HB1184 would also revise how the state sets fines for speeding violations.

North Dakota now charges a $2 fine for each mile per hour over the posted speed up to 10 mph in excess of the limit. Each additional mile per hour over the limit can result in a $5 fine.

Sponsored by Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, and 10 more state lawmakers, the bill would amend the $2 threshold to 15 miles per hour over the posted speed. HB1184 is in the House Transportation Committee.

One more bill with seven sponsors addresses concern over Dakota Access Pipeline protests that spill onto roadways. Specifically, motorists and other drivers would be exempt from liability if they “unintentionally” strike and injure, or kill, someone obstructing traffic.

HB1203 is also in the House Transportation Committee.

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

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