75-mph speed limit backed

Panel sends Senate Bill 158 to full House for action

Capitol news bureau
Published: Jun 14, 2006

Motorists could soon be legally traveling 75 mph on some Louisiana highways under a bill that narrowly cleared a House committee on Tuesday night.

The measure, Senate Bill 158, won approval in the House Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee on a 6-5 vote. It next faces action in the full House.

The proposal has already passed the Senate. If it wins final approval it would require the state Department of Transportation and Development to do engineering and traffic studies on whether state highways can handle higher speeds.

If the department goes along with the bill it would mean:

n A maximum speed limit of 75 mph on parts of interstate highways, up from 70 mph today.

n A top speed limit of 70 mph on multi-lane divided highways, such as U.S. 90, compared with 65 mph now.

n A top speed limit of 65 mph on two-lane highways, such as La. 1, up from 55 mph today.

The bill would have taken effect on July 1, 2007, under the version approved by the Senate. The House panel changed that to make it effective on the signature of Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

How long state transportation officials would need to finish engineering and traffic studies was unclear.

Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth and sponsor of the bill, said 75 mph speed limits on rural sections of interstate highways would be the roads most likely to see the quickest changes.

McPherson told the committee that, under current driving practices, there is often a dangerous, 10 mph or 12 mph difference in the speed of cars and trucks. He said that is because some drivers exceed the limit and others are fearful of traveling the maximum allowed.

The new ceilings spelled out in the bill, he said, would narrow that gap to about 5 mph and actually make highways safer.

“DOTD does not have a problem with it, State Police does not have a problem with it,” McPherson said of his bill.

Major Dane Morgan of the Louisiana State Police told the committee that authorities often give motorists a leeway of about 5 mph on observing speed limits. If the new limits take effect, he said, “we would not have as much tolerance,” Morgan said.

Rep. William Daniel, R-Baton Rouge, said he was concerned about higher speed limits on interstate highways through Baton Rouge. Daniel said that, during a previous legislative debate on speed limits, callers barraged his office with concerns that it would allow for dangerously high speeds through Baton Rouge.

But Eric Kalivoda, assistant secretary for planning and programming for the state transportation department, downplayed those concerns.

“Our policy is we don’t go over 60 mph in any urban area,” Kalivoda said. Kalivoda also said that higher speed limits in Louisiana would not affect federal aid to the state.

Voting for the bill were Reps. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston; Mickey Guillory, D-Eunice; Loulan Pitre, R-Cut Off; Mike Powell, R-Shreveport; Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part and Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge.

Voting against the measure were Reps. William Daniel, R-Baton Rouge; Dale Erdey, R-Livingston; Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro; Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville and Mert Smiley, R-St. Amant.