Motorists breezing through parts of Pennsylvania are now able to set their cruise control at 70 mph without having to worry about getting a speeding ticket.
Pennsylvania is the latest state to join the 70 mph club. A 100-mile section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike south of Reading went from 65 mph to 70 mph last month. Starting Monday, Pennsylvania is also increasing the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph on stretches of Interstates 80 and 380.
Altogether, 37 states now have speed limits of 70 mph or higher, with some highways in Texas, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming allowing drivers to zoom up to 80 or 85 mph, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Is New Jersey next to raise its speed limit? Sorry, leadfoots, New Jersey will remain in the slow lane. New Jersey’s Department of Transportation says there are no discussions with the Legislature to increase the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph on any highways or the state’s three toll roads.
“Raising the speed limit above its current levels would neither be safe or prudent,” NJDOT spokesman Steve Schapiro said. “Higher speeds lead to an increase in the number and severity of crashes, injuries and fatalities.”
Schapiro said New Jersey’s dense population and heavy truck traffic are key reasons why the state has no plans to raise the speed limit.
“New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation and one of the most heavily traveled states,” he said. “As the primary corridor in the Northeast, New Jersey has a high percentage of truck traffic.”
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority, operator of the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike toll roads, believes that the current speed limits “are appropriate,” spokesman Tom Feeney said.
Years ago, a section of the parkway through Ocean and Monmouth counties had its speed limit lowered from 65 mph to 55 mph because of a high rate of serious crashes, Feeney noted.
Safety improvements are being built now on that crash-prone stretch of the parkway. When those improvements are completed next year, the parkway will consider raising the speed limit back to 65 mph there, Feeney said.
The Atlantic City Expressway, New Jersey’s third toll road, had a 70 mph speed limit when it first opened in 1964. Fifty years later, the legal limit is 65 mph.
“To my knowledge, there are no plans to increase the speed limit on the expressway. That decision would be largely guided by the NJDOT,” said Kevin Rehmann, a spokesman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, the highway’s operator.
From 1974 to 1998, New Jersey’s speed limit was a leisurely 55 mph. In 1998, the limit was finally raised to 65 mph on some state highways as well as the expressway, parkway and turnpike.
The 55 mph limit was enacted by Congress in 1974 as a conservation measure in response to the worldwide oil crisis that caused severe gasoline shortages. To back up the law, Congress ordered the U.S. Department of Transportation to withhold federal highway funds from states that did not adopt the 55 mph limit.
After gas shortages eased and studies showed that most motorists were exceeding 55 mph, Congress allowed states beginning in 1987 to increase speed limits on rural interstates to 65 mph. Forty states acted quickly to raise the limit. New Jersey was one of the states that retained the 55 mph limit until then-Gov. Christie Whitman gave the green light to raising it to 65 mph in 1998.
Steve Carrellas, New Jersey representative for the National Motorists Association, predicted it is just a matter of time before the state goes to 70 mph. He argued that 85 percent of New Jersey motorists are already driving faster than 65 mph, so it would make sense to raise the legal limit.
Carrellas dismissed the “myth” that a 70 mph limit would encourage motorists to drive much faster. He argued that 70 mph is in line with the ordinary flow of traffic on most New Jersey highways.
“You have to have a realistic speed limit to reflect that,” he said of traffic flow.
Despite New Jersey’s resistance to higher speeds, Carrellas joked that he expects New Jersey’s 65 mph limit will disappear before the state’s ban on self-service gasoline stations is finally ended.
Carrellas stressed that any move to raise the speed limit in New Jersey should be accompanied by safety and engineering studies. Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation noted that it conducted a safety and engineering review of the roadways that now have — or soon will — a 70 mph speed limit.
“With the analyses that we’ve done, it shows they can support the higher speed,” PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said.
Waters-Trasatt added that the push to 70 mph also reflected the fact that many Pennsylvania drivers were already exceeding the 65 mph limit.
Although the Pennsylvania Turnpike is limiting the 70 mph speed limit to a 100-mile stretch for now, the rest of the highway will likely transition from 65 mph to 70 mph by next year following safety reviews. The 100-mile section is between the Blue Mountain interchange at Exit 201 to the Morgantown interchange at Exit 298.
On Monday, Pennsylvania will raise the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph on 88 miles of Interstate 80 from Exit 101 in Clearfield County to Clinton County.
The new 70 mph speed limit will also take effect Monday on a 16-mile stretch of Interstate 380 between I-84 in Lackawanna County to north of Exit 8 (Tobyhanna) in Monroe County.
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