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Bill calls for 70-mph speed limit in Maryland

by Holly Nunn

Staff Writer

A bipartisan group of legislators said Thursday that raising the maximum allowable speed limit in Maryland, where drivers already exceed it, would make highways safer.

Dels. Neil Parrott (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown and Aruna Miller (D-Dist. 15) of Darnestown, both traffic engineers, introduced a bill that would increase the speed limit on the Intercounty Connector from 55 to 70 mph and would give the State Highway Administration the OK to raise the limit on other roads around the state.

“The complaints I get from my constituents are that the speed limit is way too low, the tolls are way too high, and the enforcement is way too high,” Miller said of the ICC, an 18-mile toll road running from Gaithersburg to Beltsville and costs $4 for a one-way ride during rush hour. “You pay a premium price to ride the ICC; the experience should be positive.”

Because of the road’s construction, Miller said, drivers already are going 70 mph or faster, and find themselves being pulled over for speeding.

Maryland Transportation Authority police issued 222 speeding citations and 305 warnings in November and December on the ICC, according to authority spokesman John Sales.

If the speed limit were raised, Miller said, more people would use the tollway, taking traffic off congested roadways such as the Capital Beltway.

In November and December, an average of between 25,000 and 36,400 vehicles used the ICC on weekdays. In fiscal 2012, 11.56 million trips generated $19.73 million in revenue.

“Raising the speed limit would increase the value of riding on the ICC,” Miller said.

Counter to conventional thinking, Parrott said, raising the speed limit would make the road safer, because more motorists would travel at similar speeds. Currently, driving speeds vary widely, he said.

“[55 mph] is an unrealistically low speed limit,” Parrott said. “It’s unsafe for people who are actually doing the speed limit,” because many on the road are already traveling at 70 mph.

A study of accidents on the ICC, intended to shed light on whether it is safe to raise the speed limit, is due out in February from the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Currently, Maryland’s maximum allowable speed is 65 mph, which makes it incongruent with some of its neighbors, including West Virginia, Parrott said. Thirty-five states have speed limits of 70 mph or higher on some of their roads.

Sen. George C. Edwards introduced another bill that would raise the speed limit on Interstate 68 in Western Maryland from the current 65 to 70 mph, which is consistent with the speed limit on the same road in West Virginia.

“This will bring us in line with other states and into the modern world,” Edwards said.

Maryland’s maximum speed limit was 70 mph prior to 1974, when the federal government set the national speed limit at 55 mph because of an energy crisis and the need to conserve fuel. In 1995, the authority to set speed limits was returned to the states.

Cars are now built to run efficiently at higher speeds, Parrott said, and most Maryland interstates and expressways are designed to accommodate vehicles traveling 70 mph.

Should the bill pass, the Maryland State Highway Administration would, after safety studies, have the option of raising the speed limit on any expressway or interstate in Maryland, but would be required to do so on the ICC.

While AAA Mid-Atlantic is not weighing in on the specific legislation, the auto club urges states to use traffic and engineering studies when setting speed limits, said Ragina Averella, spokeswoman for the organization.

hnunn@gazette.net