70 mph speed limit proposal hits bump in road
MADISON — A proposal to increase Wisconsin's speed limit to 70 mph may race through the state Assembly, but it appears to be headed for a speed bump or two in the Senate and with Gov. Scott Walker.
Just a day after Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill raising the speed limit on rural highways in his state to 70 mph, Rep. Paul Tittl, R-Manitowoc, on Tuesday called for the same thing in Wisconsin.
The bill would have to pass the Senate and Assembly, and be signed by Walker, before taking effect.
Tittl's proposal has the backing of Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has said he wants a vote on the measure in September. But the measure appears likely to run out of gas in the Senate.
"There are no plans to tackle the speed limit proposal any time soon," said Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald in a statement.
In a further sign of trouble, Walker and his Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb took no position.
Walker will evaluate the bill should it pass the Legislature, spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster said. The Department of Transportation has no position on the proposal at this time, said spokeswoman Peg Schmitt.
Despite those considerable road blocks, Tittl said he was confident the proposal would pass the Republican-controlled Legislature and be signed into law by the end of the year.
Raising the speed limit would be good for business and workers with long commutes because it will allow people to get to their destinations faster, Tittl said. And despite studies showing that raising the speed limit increases the risk of serious crashes, Tittl said he thinks it would be just as safe as the current limit, which he said no one follows anyhow.
"I don't think it will be much of a change at all," he said.
Tittl, who lives about 140 miles from the Capitol in Madison, said he was convinced of the need for a change during a recent commute where he drove the speed limit the whole time.
"I was absolutely slowest person on the road," he said. "I didn't pass anyone."
Democratic state Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, a member of the Assembly's transportation committee from Appleton, said before the speed limit is raised, current driving safety laws like those requiring seat belts to be worn and banning texting behind the wheel should be enforced more strictly.
“Unless we can really make sure our drivers are driving safely, I think we should slow down on having a higher speed limit," she said.
This isn't the first time there's been a push to raise Wisconsin's speed limit. A proposal in 2005 to increase it to 75 mph went nowhere, stalled by opposition from Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat.
Illinois was the 35th state to increase speed limits since Congress allowed it in 1995, doing away with widely ignored federal speed limits of 55 mph on most roads and 65 mph on rural roads. The trend has resulted in an increase in road deaths and injuries in those states, according to some studies, including one that found a 9 percent jump in deaths on rural interstates.
Other crash analysts say that letting speed limits creep up poses no increased risk and point out, as Tittl argued, that many drivers already are going faster anyway.
The federal speed limit law was passed to reduce fuel consumption after the 1973 oil embargo. Safety advocates lauded it for the subsequent drop in road deaths and injuries.