Two Clark County fire chiefs believe a statewide speed limit increase on Ohio interstates could cause more crashes, particularly in the four-lane section of Interstate 70 near Springfield.
The Ohio Department of Transportation announced this week that the speed limit on I-70 throughout Clark County would increase to 70 mph on July 1.
“I do have concerns of a 70-mile-an-hour speed limit with (I-70) being in its current four-lane setup, just due to the volume of traffic that is traveling … from Enon Road toward Springfield,” Mad River Twp.-Enon Fire and EMS Acting Chief Elmer Beard said.
The interstate is six lanes from near the western Clark County line to Enon Road, where it constricts down to four lanes until Ohio 72 near the city of Springfield. There it returns to six lanes to Columbus.
An average of 55,400 vehicles travel that stretch daily, according to data from the Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee.
Local officials have said that creates a bottleneck, causes traffic delays during heavy commuting, hinders economic development and increases the potential for crashes. They continue to push the state to widen the 6.8-mile stretch as soon as possible.
The parameters to select where to up the speed limit were based on if the areas were considered urbanized or rural zones, ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner said.
In the instance of Clark County, planners encountered problems with speed limits rapidly changing from 65 mph to 70 mph and back to 65 mph, Faulkner said.
“The decision was made, instead of doing that, to just keep it at 70 mph since it doesn’t fall directly within the municipality,” he said. “You see that difference in Springfield versus, say, Findlay where the interstate system does fall more directly into the middle of the metropolitan area there for Findlay.”
ODOT recognized urbanized zones as those municipalities with 5,000 or more population, per the U.S. Census, he said.
Springfield Twp. Fire and EMS Chief John Roeder is concerned with vehicles merging from U.S. 68 with the higher-speed vehicles onto I-70.
“That seems (to be) where we have our most severe accidents, with the semis coming on the on ramps and the off ramps,” he said.
“It’s hard to get up to speed when you come on to 70 off of those ramps to merge and it would be a lot nicer if they would have the three lanes there. That way at least (motorists) can leave one of the lanes open for the vehicles to come onto 70,” he added.
He isn’t worried about the faster speeds on the open road.
“I travel quite often also,” Roeder said. “And 70 miles an hour in other states seems to be working well.”
Clark County Engineer Johnathan Burr shared Beard’s concern about the increased speeds in the four-lane area.
“It’s going to add to the problems we already have there,” he said.
His office doesn’t have jurisdiction over interstate engineering, but said his professional opinion is that the four-lane area, and a portion of I-70 through the urbanized zone near Springfield, should remain 65 mph.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol remained neutral on the issue before and after the most recent decision, though it opposed a proposed increase in the past.
Lt. Anne Ralston, spokeswoman for OSP, said if the patrol began to see additional problems in that stretch of the interstate — or in any other part of the state — it would alert ODOT.
“Obviously our primary concern is for safety and making sure that our roadways are as safe as possible and people are using them safely,” Ralston said. “We can’t predict what’s going to happen or what’s not going to happen other than to (say) that we’re going to continue to enforce the law, whether the speed limit’s 65 or 70 with our primary emphasis on changing driver behavior and to gain compliance with the law.”
The Springfield News-Sun is dedicated to providing you in-depth coverage of public safety concerns.