The verdict is in and New Jersey traffic professionals give the green light to expanding the 65 mph speed limit. This brought a mixed response from the long-time advocates for higher, more reasonable and safer speed limits.
"The really great news," according to Steve Carrellas, state chapter coordinator for the National Motorists Association, "is that DOT engineers, along with traffic safety and law enforcement personnel, determined that more miles of highway should be posted at 65 mph. That endorsement is hard to argue with."
This will bring the total number of limited-access highway miles posted at 65 mph to about 600, or about 75 percent of all limited-access highway miles in the state.
While the NMA would like to see almost all of the remaining miles posted at a higher speed limit, including stretches at 60 and 70 mph, Carrellas believes that the recommendations are a good starting point. "The professionals have spoken so it is clear there will be more miles posted at 65 mph. The only variable is when it will happen and how much more mileage will be added," he said.
Prior to the announcement, DOT claimed that the process for this three-year study follows the same path as the one submitted at the 18-month mark. That would have the DOT implementing the recommendations in 60 days unless the legislature "disapproves" any of them in a concurrent resolution. Carrellas says this is in error.
"The statute (39:4-98.8) only called for this to occur one time, at the end of the original 18-month study. This means the DOT can proceed immediately using their standard process for changing speed limits," he said. "Yet," he added with a smile, "the more time they wait, the greater the chance that legislators will add more mileage at a higher limit."
Bills in both houses of the legislature to increase the mileage for the 65 mph limit have passed their respective committees. Both bills call for more miles at 65 than the DOT's recommendations. Senator Kosco's bill calls for all 810 miles of limited-access highways to be posted at 65 while Assemblyman Guy Gregg's bill adds an additional 188 miles for a total of close to 665 miles at the 65 mph limit. This includes interstate highways, the state's toll roads and other limited-access state highways.
Carrellas, who is also a professional engineer, believes the DOT's recommendations were conservative. "If the recently updated (2001) national standards for setting speed limits were applied, more miles of limited access highway would be posted at higher limits, including stretches at 70 mph," he said, referring to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (section 2B.11 at http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov).
"For example, the new standard would most likely return the Atlantic City Expressway to the more realistic 70 mph limit that existed prior to the imposition of the national 55 mph limit," he said.
The NMA has advocated for years that a properly set speed limit that reflects the reasonable behavior of the vast majority of motorists is both complied with and results in a smoother and safer traffic flow. "The failure to set speed limits by proper engineering standards results in poor compliance and less safe roads. It also creates the perception that speed limits are meaningless," Carrellas said.
Carrellas is also concerned about individuals and organizations who continue to repeat what he calls "the urban myths of speed limits." "They engage in scare tactics and myths linking higher speed limits to crashes and incredibly faster driving when decades of research and the state's own data never support this conclusion. They must have some other agenda aside from safety in mind," he said.
The National Motorists Association was responsible for the complete repeal of the national 55 mph speed limit in 1995. This returned complete control for setting maximum speed limits to the states, without the threat of losing federal highway money.
The New Jersey Chapter led the battle in the state to increase New Jersey's maximum limit. This resulted in the legislature passing a bill at the end of 1997 to allow the DOT to increase the limit to 65 mph or higher on all limited-access highways. Governor Whitman conditionally vetoed the legislation and called for an 18-month trial period with the 65 limit on 475 miles of highway. That trial resulted in another 18-month study that now calls for expanding the 65 mph limit further.
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NJDOT Press Release on Releasing Final 65 Mph Report http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/press/2001releases/081701.htm
The Final 65 Mph Report (3.6 Meg) http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/65mph081601.pdf