Cumberland Times-News

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March 29, 2014

Speed limit increase bill runs out of gas

Senate committee chairman kills measure

CUMBERLAND — Drivers traveling the long stretch of Interstate 68 in Western Maryland won’t be speeding up to 70 mph anytime soon, at least not legally. A bill that would have allowed state highway officials to up the speed limit to 70 on some highways cruised through the House of Delegates, but then ran out of gas in a Senate committee.  

Brian Frosh, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, used his power to kill the bill. Frosh said he doesn’t plan to let it go any further. If the bill can’t get out of committee, it can’t get to the Senate floor for a full vote by senators. Higher speed limits would lead to more deaths and pollution, with a marginal benefit of saving a minute or less on most trips, Frosh said.

Sen. George Edwards, a sponsor of the companion Senate bill, had expressed concern that Frosh’s opposition might stall the bill. The bill entered the Senate after passing the House by a 133-0 vote.

The current maximum speed limit on portions of I-68 is 65 mph, though there are areas where the limit is as low as 40 mph. At the West Virginia border, the interstate speed limit increases to 70, where it continues through the rest of its length in that state.

Current law sets the speed limit for most highways in the state at a maximum of 55 mph with some portions of some highways set at 65 mph.

Local legislators were fighting for the speed limit change for the second year in a row.

The  bill would have left the decision on speed limits up to the Department of Transportation. It would likely have most application on Interstates 68 and 70.

Increasing the speed limit on I-68 would only have had a limited impact on the state budget, according to a fiscal and policy note to the bill prepared by the Department of Legislative Services. Some engineering studies on increasing the speed limit may be required, which would cost the state money. The note adds that “to the extent speed limits are increased, general fund revenues may decrease minimally due to fewer citations being issued for exceeding the speed limit.”  

Twenty-two states allow maximum speed limits of 70 mph on highways, according to the fiscal and policy note. Another 14 have a maximum 75 mph limit and 11 have a maximum of 65 mph. Only a few states fall outside those three limits and range from 60 mph maximum to 85 mph.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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