NMA E-Newsletter #303: Masking an Agenda

We admit it. We are cynics when it comes to AAA’s motives. Exhibit A: #288, A Horse of a Different Color which we issued shortly after AAA Idaho publicly pressured the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) to hold off from raising the speed limit from 75 to 80 mph on specific stretches of Interstates 15, 84, and 86.

We thought then that the insurance company was posturing, in essence registering the kind of passive-aggressive opposition to the easing of restrictions that seems to mark many of AAA’s stances on motorist-related issues. After we recently completed a 30-minute exercise to get a copy of ITD’s background work to support the 5 mph speed limit bump, that conclusion seems even more apparent now. More on that simple investigative task in just a bit.

Let’s do a quick review of the timeline first. In March 2014, the Idaho governor approved a statutory amendment to allow a limit increase to 80 mph on interstate highways, provided, “. . . the (transportation) department completes an engineering and traffic study . . . and concludes that the increase is in the public interest and the transportation board concurs with such conclusion.”

ITD announced in June that it had completed its analysis and planned to implement the higher speed limit in certain areas in July. That is when AAA Idaho questioned how the department could have possibly gathered the data and performed a thorough review to support a speed limit increase in three short months. The Idaho Transportation Board blinked and asked ITD to check its due diligence, seemingly concerned about possible fallout from AAA’s statement. The public is still conditioned to believe that speed limit increases automatically raise concerns about more fatalities. Speed kills, right?

It took the NMA no more than a half hour to issue a public records request to ITD asking for all of the engineering and traffic data used for its June determination to raise the speed limit. (The records request can be a simple but very powerful tool for advocates seeking government transparency. We will dedicate a future e-newsletter to the process, using our query to the ITD for illustration.)

Within ten days of the NMA request, ITD sent us 427 pages of reports and analyses, signed and sealed by professional engineers in June when the department originally announced it had studied and approved speed limit increases. The information included maps of existing and proposed speed zones, speed surveys, crash data from 2011 through 2013, a review of each fatality report on the selected interstate sections—basically everything competent engineers need to set the proper posted limit based on the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic while also considering road conditions and safety records.

ITD had done its homework the first time around in June. If AAA Idaho had bothered to spend the few minutes required to ask the department for the basis of its conclusions before openly questioning its process, the public posturing could have been avoided. It almost makes one wonder whether AAA Idaho had a different agenda.

Postscript: The speed zone reviews and recommendations by ITD are a matter of public record. While too extensive to post on the NMA website, we would be happy to forward copies to anyone interested in how ITD arrived at its recommendations.

Editor’s Note: Last week some subscribers reported receiving a warning message about malicious activity when clicking open the NMA e-newsletter. The warning noted that the Delicious social bookmarking website was reported as an attack site that can install programs or corrupt software on the user’s computer. We investigated immediately and verified that the NMA website and e-newsletter are clean. Previously we added a standard array of social media icons to the e-newsletter template to make it more convenient to share NMA content. One of those icons was for the Delicious website which we immediately removed from the template. We apologize to those who received such a warning and add our assurances that the security of our email transmissions remains a top priority.

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