Ohio lawmakers propose higher speed limit for freeways

Members of the Senate Transportation Committee proposed the change on Monday morning through an amendment added to the transportation budget bill. The committee plans to vote on the bill Tuesday.

The higher maximum speed limit would apply to interstate freeways outside of urban areas — such as parts of Interstates 75, 70 and 71.

The maximum speed limit for outerbelts in urban areas — such as I-675 around Dayton, I-270 and I-670 around Columbus and I-275 around Cincinnati — would be set at 65 mph.

Interstate freeways in areas deemed congested by the Ohio Department of Transportation would be set at 55 mph.

Since Congress repealed the national speed limit in 1995, 34 states have raised speed limits to 70 mph or higher on some of their roads, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Neighboring states Michigan, Indiana and West Virginia already have 70 mph as their rural freeway maximum speed limit. Kentucky law allows 70 mph on specific segments of highway deemed safe to do so.

Ohio increased freeway speed from 55 to 65 mph in 1996. The Ohio Turnpike Commission approved a 70 mph speed limit in 2010. Ohio lawmakers have debated raising the freeway speed limit for years, as recently as last year.

The State Highway Patrol had reservations about the idea last year, but patrol spokeswoman Lt. Anne Ralston said this version addresses some of their concerns. Of particular concern, Ralston said, was which patches of roadway would have the higher speed limits because the majority of crashes and fatal crashes occur in metro areas.

Ralston said the current plan keeps 70 mph to rural interstates and includes a two-year study of the impact on safety from the higher speed limits.

“If this does come to fruition, our mission hasn’t changed,” Ralston said. “We are a law enforcement agency. We will enforce the laws as we’re required to, all with the mission of making our highways safe for the people who live here and the people who travel through Ohio.”

The Ohio Insurance Institute, an insurance trade organization, opposes any increase in maximum speed limits. Institute President Dan Kelso cited several studies showing increased fatalities from higher speeds, including one that showed a 15 percent increase in fatalities on interstate freeways after the national speed limit was repealed.

“When you increase the speed limit you increase the risk, when you increase the risk you’re going to have more losses, probably more expensive losses,” Kelso said.

The transportation budget bill also includes Gov. John Kasich’s plan to raise $1.5 billion by bonding against future Ohio Turnpike revenues. Lawmakers on Monday added a provision requiring 90 percent of the bond proceeds to be spent on projects within 75 miles of the turnpike.

If the Senate approves the bill, the higher speed limit and other changes would have to be approved by the House, which passed the bill in February, before going to Kasich’s desk.

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