Resolution Could Raise Interstate Speed Limits

CHARLESTON — An effort to give the West Virginia Department of Transportation the latitude to raise the speed limit on interstates in West Virginia could also provide more funding for secondary roads, officials said.

House Concurrent Resolution 32 would give Transportation Secretary Tom Smith the authority to raise the interstate speed limit from 70 mph to 75 mph where appropriate. It doesn’t apply to Appalachian Corridor highways or the West Virginia Turnpike.

Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, chairman of the House Government Organization Committee, introduced the resolution this year after another delegate who traditionally had introduced it in years past resigned last year.

If the state chooses to raise the speed limit on the interstates, Howell said the state would join Michigan and Maine as the states east of the Mississippi River with the highest speed limits.

“The interstates were designed in the 1950s for 75 miles per hour with 1950s tires and suspensions,” said Howell, the chairman of the national State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus. “All of the Rocky Mountain states are already at 75 or actually 80, and they’ve seen no change in traffic fatalities or wrecks statistically, so there is no safety issue.”

West Virginia is intersected by seven interstates, 64, 68, 70, 73, 77, 79 and 81. Howell doesn’t believe speed limits would be raised near large cities that see increased traffic and congestion.

Another benefit, according to Howell, is tax generation.

“When you look at the ways travel goes through West Virginia, if people think they can get through the state a little quicker, they’ll come this way instead of going another way,” Howell said. “They’ll stop at our convenience stores. Because of the higher speed, they’ll buy a little more fuel here. We actually expect the numbers to be higher.”

According to data from the Legislative Auditor’s Office, raising the speed limit from 70 to 75 could generate as much as $7.4 million in increased fuel tax collections for the State Road Fund.

“The fuel mileage drops off on a car between 70 and 75 an average of 2 miles per gallon,” Howell said. “That’s something people are going to voluntarily do with their right foot, so we didn’t have to raise taxes on them, but we’ll get more money for roads. That’s what we need to do.”

HCR 32 was adopted by the House of Delegates and the Senate, which amended the resolution to exclude the five Appalachian Corridors. The original resolution would have allowed speed limits to raise from 65 mph to 70 mph on the corridor roads.

“It was removed because there are crossings there that are pretty dangerous,” Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, a former chairman of the West Virginia Route 2 and I-68 Authority, said. “It’s like that in a lot of places.”

The resolution will now to go the desk of Gov. Jim Justice for his approval.

Reporter Joselyn King contributed to this report.

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