Proposal to increase highway speeds advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval March 21 to a bill that would authorize the state Department of Transportation to increase highway speed limits.

Sen. John Murante
Sen. John Murante

LB1009, introduced by Gretna Sen. John Murante, would authorize the department to increase the maximum speed limit from 60 mph to 65 mph on any four-lane divided highway that is not a part of the state highway system and any part of the state highway system other than an expressway or freeway.

Murante said the increased speed limits would align the speed of Nebraska roads with the 85th percentile speed—the speed at or below which 85 percent of all vehicles are observed to travel in free-flowing traffic. Traffic officials generally agree that speed limits should reflect the driving behaviors of most drivers, he said.

South Dakota recently adopted a higher speed limit, Murante said, which led to a 13 percent decrease in traffic fatalities that can result from large speed differentials between drivers.

“The department considers road design, current operating speeds, traffic volume, traffic control devices and crash data in determining appropriate speed limits,” he said. “This would ensure our speed limits are set at the safest speeds for our citizens.”

Speeds would increase from 65 mph to 70 mph on expressways that are part of the state highway system and freeways that are a part of the state highway system but not part of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

Finally, the maximum speed limit would be increased from 60 mph to 65 mph on any portion of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways located in Douglas, Lancaster and Dakota counties.

Inconsistency in speed limits on substantially similar highways creates confusion and dangerous driving situations, said Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams in support of the bill.

“Gothenburg is one of those communities along Highway 30 where one way out of town is 60 mph and the other way is 65 mph,” Williams said. “This gives the department the ability to equalize the roads so that they’re the same.”

North Platte Sen. Mike Groene also spoke in support of the bill, saying it would allow commercial vehicles to travel more efficiently through the state.

“It’s an economic development tool for western Nebraska,” he said. “Time is money and getting from point A to point B faster makes a difference.”

Opposing the bill was Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht. Increased speed limits would be dangerous, she said, particularly in rural areas where passenger vehicles must frequently share the roads with large farm equipment.
“If you’re on Highway 9 during planting or harvest season or when they’re moving cattle, you better be ready,” Albrecht said. “I think this is very dangerous and risky and in the areas where I live, there’s way too many slow-moving vehicles.”

Papillion Sen. Jim Smith introduced an amendment, adopted 34-1, that removed a provision in the original bill that would authorize the department to increase the interstate speed limit from 75 mph to 80 mph if a traffic and engineering study would support such a move.

He said increasing the interstate speed limit between Lincoln and Omaha would save less than three minutes of driving time for the average passenger vehicle. Additionally, increasing the speed limit would create an unsafe speed differential between passenger and commercial vehicles, Smith said, which often drive no faster than 65 mph on the interstate.

“Our trucking industry travels on the interstate daily, investing millions into our economy every year,” he said. “When that industry stands up and says it’s a bad idea, we need to listen.”

Following the adoption of a technical Transportation and Telecommunications Committee amendment, senators advanced the bill to select file on a 35-2 vote.

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