The Free Press, Mankato, MN


June 17, 2014

Selective speed limit increases wise move

Why it matters: State lawmakers took a measured approach to increase speed limits when the roads can safely handle it.

After passage of a little known amendment added to a transportation bill this legislative session, the Minnesota Department of Transportation will begin examining all of the state’s 55 mph roads and determine which ones can be bumped up to 60 mph.

The move follows a national trend as several states have in recent years increased speed limits on some of their highways.

Doing design and safety reviews of all of the state-operated highways (the change doesn’t affect county or city roads) will take some time as there are nearly 7,000 miles of 55 mph roadway to look at. A complete review will take another five years. But MnDOT will increase the speed limits as it makes decisions on each stretch of roadway it reviews, meaning “60 mph” signs could be coming later this year.

The change makes sense at a time when the design of roads has improved significantly and vehicles are built with more safety built in. The increased speed limit will be especially important in rural Minnesota, where people generally have to drive longer distances. A higher speed limit will save time and money for those living and doing business in the outstate areas.

Opponents of an increased speed limit say higher speeds inherently mean more crashes. They may be right. But if reducing crashes were the only goal then we could have a strictly enforced 30 mph speed limits on every highway. Crashes would decline to virtually zero.

Of course that’s ridiculous. People know there is an assumed risk in travelling the highways — the important thing is to take into account improvements made to roads and vehicles and allow for a reasonable increase in speed limits when warranted.

The Legislature correctly required a MnDOT review of a road’s safety before allowing for a higher speed limit, rather than simply boosting all the speed limit on all state highways by 5 mph. That will mean inherently dangerous roadways — Highway 14 from North Mankato to New Ulm comes to mind — won’t see a higher speed limit.

Lawmakers should be commended for taking a reasonable approach to raising the speed limit on roads that can safely handle it.

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