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75 mph speeds coming to 614 miles of Mich. freeways

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan will increase speed limits to 75 miles per hour on 614 miles of rural freeways — but none in Metro Detroit — beginning in May, state police and the Michigan Department of Transportation said Wednesday.

The departments have also agreed to raise speed limits to 65 mph on 938 miles of non-freeway and state trunk line highways.

Most of the changes are slated for roadways in northern Michigan but could provide residents in other parts of the state with quicker access to vacation destinations such as Traverse City, Mackinac Island and the Upper Peninsula.

The Department of Transportation will begin posting 75 mph speed limit signs for three freeway routes on Monday, including portions of Interstate 75, US-127 and US-131, up from the current 70 mph limits. Sign overlays will also establish a 65 mph limit for trucks and buses.

The increases were made possible under a January law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder allowing the department to raise speed limits on certain roadways after conducting traffic and safety studies.

“The corridors identified by MDOT and MSP were selected not only because studies indicated most drivers were already driving at those increased speeds, but also because their design and safety features were best suited to these speed limits,” transportation director Kirk Steudle said in a statement.

“We reviewed design speeds, crash patterns, number of access points, traffic volumes and continuity of these corridors, and chose them to minimize necessary improvements for higher speed limits.”

Speed limits will increase from 70 mph to 75 mph on two portions of Interstate-75: A 175-mile stretch from Bay City to Mackinaw City and another 50-mile stretch from St. Ignace to Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Peninsula.

US-127 in mid-Michigan will get 75 mph speeds on an 18-mile stretch from I-69 to St. Johns in Clinton County and another 98 miles from Ithaca to I-75.

In west Michigan, speeds will rise to 75 mph on US-131 north of Grand Rapids, beginning at M-57 in Kent County and stretching to north of Manton in Wexford County, a main artery for motorists traveling north toward vacation hot spots.

The new law positions Michigan as one of 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 mph 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.

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

“Speed kills,” said Todd Berg of Michigan Auto Law. “Research has shown that it has in the past and sadly is likely to do so in the future.”

The auto accident law firm opposed the speed limits legislation and is “disappointed the powers that be” decided to raise rates, Berg said.

He pointed to studies, including a 1990 study by a University of Michigan researcher showing fatal crashes increased nearly 20 percent when the state raised its rural highway speed limits from 55 mph to 65 mph in 1987.

Michigan legislators originally contemplated allowing speeds of up to 80 mph, but after nearly two years of debate settled on 75 mph in the final version of bills they approved in late 2016.

“The engineering and safety studies conducted utilized the 85th-percentile speed, which is a national scientifically proven method to determine and establish safe speed limits,” said Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the State Police. “Troopers and motor carrier officers do, and will continue to, aggressively enforce all posted speed limits to ensure compliance by the motoring public.

The transportation department and state police said they’re finalizing details to raise speed limits on additional routes by mid-November.

Portions of I-69 east of Lansing, US-10 near Midland and US-31 in Oceana and Mason counties will also increase to 75 mph.

The state is expected to install new advisory speed and curve warning signs, shorten passing zones, change pavement markings and make other changes along relevant roadways as a result of the new law and limits.

joosting@detroitnews.com