Snyder signs 75 mph speed limits into law

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Motorists will soon see posted speed limits of 75 miles per hour on some Michigan freeways under legislation signed Thursday by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The higher limits, up from the current maximum of 70 mph, will be limited to rural freeways. Most likely candidates are in northern Michigan. Speed limits could only be raised after traffic and safety studies by state police and the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“Ensuring that all Michiganders are safe while operating vehicles on our state’s roadways is critically important, and these bills allow for appropriately increased speed limits on certain roadways after safety studies are conducted,” Snyder said in a statement.

The new law positions Michigan as one of just nine states allowing freeway speed limits of higher than 70 mph, which had been the limit here. Congress scrapped a national limit law in 1995.

Texas allows speeds of up to 85 miles per hour on a single stretch of rural freeway, the highest rate in the nation. Four other states allow speeds of up to 80 mph on portions and three allow 75 mph, according to the National Motorists Association.

The new Michigan law directs transportation department officials and state police to raise 70 mph speed limits on at least 600 miles of limited access freeway if they conclude that safety and engineering studies warrant the change.

Speeds could also rise to 65 mph on at least 900 miles of state trunk line highway in the next year.

The law seeks to codify the engineering principle that speed limits should be set to match the speed at which 85 percent of drivers already travel on a given roadway in ideal conditions.

Critics argue that higher speed limits could lead to more violent crashes and fatalities, but supporters say the law may boost highway safety by leading motorists to travel at more uniform rates.

A study commissioned by the state transportation department identified hundreds of rural freeway and highway miles that could qualify for higher speed limits, but a formal recommendation process has not yet been finalized.

Likely candidates include Interstate 75 in northern Michigan, the freeway portion of U.S. 131 that begins in north Kent County and runs toward Manton, and U.S. 127 from near Clare to where it connects with I-75 in Crawford County.

Snyder also signed Wednesday a new law designed to eliminate local community cost-sharing requirements on highway construction projects, a move that will require the state transportation department to cover bills not covered by federal funding.

The governor vetoed an earlier version of the legislation, but sponsoring Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, struck a compromise with the administration to maintain cost-sharing requirements for roads like Woodward Avenue in Metro Detroit, which is technically a state highway but also serves as a “main street” for many local communities.

Knollenberg’s push to end local highway cost-sharing was spurred by the massive I-75 reconstruction project now underway in Metro Detroit. That project alone could cost Troy, Madison Heights and Royal Oak nearly $20 million over the next decade or more, he said, but those communities would not see much benefit from increased commuter traffic.

The legislation will “result in a savings to some of the 45 cities currently required to participate in the cost of state trunkline projects,” according to the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency. “The savings to specific cities would depend on the specific location and cost of projects.”