Highway speed limit increase fails in Senate

At the beginning of March, during the 61st Wyoming legislative session, a House bill that would have raised the maximum speed limit on interstate highways from 75 to 80 mph was eventually killed by a Senate committee.

This bill, sponsored by Rep. Tom Lubnau, R-Campbell, would have allowed safe sections of interstates to be increased to 80 mph. To find safe sections, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) would have surveyed the interstates to see where the proposed law would work best.

"A constituent asked me to propose the bill because he was driving to Las Vegas and saw sections of I-15 that were 80 mph," Lubnau said about the reasoning for sponsoring the bill.

Roadblock after passing House

The bill originally passed the House with a 56-to-1 vote, but when it reached the Senate, law enforcement officials pointed out the dangers and controversy of this bill. The controversy about this bill was the increased speed would lead to people exceeding that speed limit; possible danger on the interstates would increase, and funding for roads would also be in danger.

Lubnau said most people already drive 80 mph on the interstate, and because of that, if the interstates increased to that, people would start going 85 mph, opponents argued.

Sam Powell, lobbyist for the Wyoming Peace Officers Association, agreed but also said increased speed limits usually lead to more crashes. Powell recalled when he was a state trooper he would see many more crashes when the speed limits were raised.

With a higher speed, one of the biggest concerns was danger and crashes on the interstates would greatly increase because of the need for more reaction time. Lubnau said even though law enforcement was against it mainly for this reason, "studies in Texas and Utah do not bear these facts out." Lubnau added that "statistics show the safety and the speed of vehicles does not change much when the speed limit is changed to 80 mph."

Del McComie, chief engineer for WYDOT, said even though he had the ability to change the speed, he would not have hiked the speed up right away and the speed would have to be lowered in months with severe weather because that would greatly increase the danger.

The final component of controversy around this bill was the monetary issue. Sen. John Schiffer, R-Sheridan/Johnson, said although WYDOT said stretches interstate road would have to conduct surveys on the matter, and it was never specified how much the surveys would cost.

High cost for high speeds

Schiffer, who is chairman of the Transportation and Military Affairs Committee, said when it came to make a decision on the bill, the committee focused on the funding for this bill to happen. "We know that our highways are deteriorating due to funding shortfalls," he said.

Schiffer said the committee is aware WYDOT has shifted from enhanced safety- construction mode to a maintenanceonly mode because of a shortage of funds for the highways.

Schiffer said, "When highways are deteriorating and the conditions are worsening, it seems that it is not the time to raise the speed limit."

When it came to motion for the bill, Schiffer said no member of the committee would make a motion, and with no motion, the bill was killed.

Sheila D. Foertsch, managing director of the Wyoming Trucking Association, said, "The Wyoming Trucking Association did not take a position on this bill." It didn't take position on the bill because its policy doesn't support specific speed limits, only "reasonable, safe speed limits based on sound engineering that are uniformly enforced."

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