Reduce speed ahead

Speed limits maintained, enforced in I-74 construction zone even when crews aren't working


Monday, July 10, 2006

By John Sharp

of the Journal Star
PEORIA - Andrea Graff says she obeys the Interstate 74 speed limit smoothly and safely at 45 mph.

"Its more of a safety thing," said Graff, who drives every day through East Peoria on her way to work as the member services coordinator with RiverPlex. "It's not a hindrance. I think 45 mph is definitely the right speed."

But she and other motorists on I-74 anxiously await mid-November when the project is completed and state transportation officials start increasing the highway's speed to 55 mph through Downtown and 65 mph in the outlying areas.

"The new speed limits will come into effect as quickly as they can," said George Ryan, project implementation engineer with the Illinois Department of Transportation's Upgrade 74 project. "We won't do it prematurely before it's safe to do it."

For now, motorists continue to drive 45 mph on I-74, even in areas where it appears the construction has been completed.

IDOT and the Illinois State Police stress that even on Sundays and holidays, when construction crews are not working on the project, motorists need to abide by the 45 mph speed limit.

If not, it could mean a $375 fine and a mandatory court appearance, Illinois State Police Trooper Brian Copple said.

"There are no warnings in a construction zone," Copple said. "There is no tolerance (for speeding) at all."

Ryan said in recent weeks, IDOT officials have received e-mails from motorists questioning the reasoning behind the 45 mph speed limit during days when construction crews are off work.

He said the main reason is for safety, because of a number of factors including narrow or nonexistent shoulders and varying lane closures.

"Many times we have various lane closures," Ryan said, adding that the 45 mph speed zone allows, "motorist to know what to expect. They can run through a (road construction) change on any given day."

IDOT came up with the 45 mph speed based on the project's design, Ryan said.

"It depends on how much room you have and the safety of the roadway," he said. "Forty-five miles per hour is a pretty well-used standard."

So far, the 45 mph speed zone through the Upgrade 74 corridor has proven to be a safe standard.

Ryan said there have been no fatalities in the three-plus years of construction. "It's a record we're proud of," he said.

He said that statewide the number of IDOT worker and motorist deaths has declined in construction zones.

In 2003, there were five IDOT workers and 44 motorists killed in construction zone-related crashes. Last year, only one IDOT worker and 26 motorists were killed in construction zones.

Ryan credits a departmental public relations campaign for this reduction.

"We're trying to make people realize that workers out on the highway are people too but, more importantly, we're letting motorists know they are at risk too," he said.

John Sharp can be reached at 686-3234 or