Officials: Speed limit change has been smooth

News Photo by Jason Ogden Certain sections of Michigan roadways, like M-32 between Atlanta and Alpena, have had speed limit increases from 55 miles per hour to 65 miles per hour.

ALPENA — Michigan motorists can drive a littler faster than they previously could on some Michigan roadways after speed increases were implemented by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Locally these sections of roadways include a long stretch of M-32 between Alpena and Atlanta and a section of M-65 south of M-32 through Hale. Speed limits on the roadways were increased from 55 miles per hour to 65 mph. On some remote sections of Michigan expressways, including I-75 the speed limits were increased from 70 mph to 75 mph

MDOT Spokesman James Lake said locally the speed limits were changed earlier this summer and more speed limit changes are taking place on local roadways this month.

Lake said the routes that were impacted with increased speeds can be found by visiting www.michigan.gov/speedlimits.

Although motorists have had the opportunity to drive at an increased speed on the roadways Lake said there has been little feedback or reported issues by the public or law enforcement.

“We have not been hearing much from the public here for the last couple of months really, and typically the comments that I have heard are from people who were not aware which routes that were going to get increased speeds limits,” he said.

That is the same for the law enforcement agencies tasked with patrolling the areas with higher speed limits than most roads, which according to Lake is a good thing.

Lake said the increases were prompted by a change in state law. He said officials studied stretched of highway that would make good candidates for increased speeds and new speeds were not just assigned randomly.

He said on many of the state highways that have increased speeds there are few major curves, few driveway outlets and clear lines of sight, among other factors.

“I would say that safe speeds on any road are determined by so many factors from road design, curve design, sight distance, number of access points, intersections. All of those factor into a design speed for a roadway, then you also have the aspects of improved safety in vehicle, safety belts, airbags, a lot of those features like antilock brakes, stability control, all of those things,” he said.

Lake said before other Michigan routes are given high speeds the newly increased speed limit areas will be watched throughly and changed accordingly. He said even the routes that were increased recently may not stay at 65 mph forever. Lake said as business and residential properties move into more rural areas it increases the daily traffic rate meaning it could impact whether it is safe in the area to have higher speeds.

“It is really something that we can’t say is static forever,” he said. “We certainly will be evaluating on these routes.”

Local law enforcement, much like MDOT, has noticed little issue with the speed increase.

Alpena Michigan State Police Sgt. Joe Richards said there have been few issues so far with speeding.

“A couple of troopers have now noticed that more traffic are going toward the posted limit of 65 mph where it is posted and (drivers) are doing what they’re allowed to gor the most part. There are people who are still going below the speed limit which can cause a hazard,” Richards said.

Richards said troopers have not noticed many drivers going over the new posted speed limit as a whole.

Alpena County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Bob LaBarge said deputies have not noticed much change with the speed increase.

“It’s been a fairly smooth transition moving it up. We do not see a trend that people are going over the speed limit,” he said. “Some people are still driving 55 mph. They don’t realize that the speed limit has changed yet, and as a result there is a little bit on congestion,” he said.

He said people should follow the 65 mph speed limit in the area to avoid potential crashes.

“You’ll get a group of five or seven cars, and then people are taking chances of passing that slower vehicle. It could potentially lead to a traffic crash,” he said.

This is not the first time Michigan drivers have been allowed to drive 65 mph on roadways, according to Lake.

He said in the 1950s the maximum speed limit was set for 70 on freeways and 65 for trunk lines and country roads during the daytime and 55 at night. The speed limits were posted on unique signs that changed according to the outside lighting. Most county roads were posted at 60, unless reduced by the usual speed limit-setting process, he said.

But then there was a change nationally on speed limits when President Richard Nixon ordered a nationwide speed limit of 55 mph, which was written into law by Congress in the first days of 1974.

“In the 1987 highway-reauthorization bill, states were allowed to post 65 mph limits on ‘rural’ interstate freeways. Non-interstate freeways, identical to the interstates, remained at 55. Michigan’s legislature raised the limit to 65 where permitted, on Nov. 29, 1987. The blanket limit for unposted roads, and the limit for trucks remained at 55,” according to MDOT historical documents.

In 1995 the National Maximum Speed Limit was scrapped by Congress and Gov. John Engler oversaw the restoration of 70 mph to non-urban freeways the following year.

Although law enforcement officials are reporting few speeders in the new zone, not everyone is happy drivers can go faster, including Alpena resident Diane Emmot who thinks drivers eventually will speed on the roadways.

“I think it’s a bad idea. They drive too fast as it is now and there are too many accidents (in general),” she said. “People are going to go 80 and 85 on the expressway. I think it should just stay 55.”

Jason Ogden can be reached via email at jogden@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Jason on Twitter @jo_alpenanews.