LINCOLN — Those hoping to boost the cruise to 80 mph on Interstate 80 will have to hold onto their horsepower for now.
But Nebraska lawmakers offered a consolation Wednesday when they gave final approval to speed limit increases on two-lane and four-lane state highways. And Douglas County motorists are likely to see an increase from 60 mph to 65 mph on Interstates 80, 480 and 680.
The Legislature voted 44-1 to give the Department of Transportation authority to increase speed limits on designated stretches of two-lane highways from 60 mph to 65 mph and on four-lane expressways from 65 mph to 70 mph. A provision that would have allowed speed hikes on I-80 across Nebraska was stricken in response to safety objections from the trucking industry.
The bill heads to the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is expected to sign it. Although the law would go into effect in mid-July, it will be up transportation officials to raise limits on highway stretches that they deem can safely accommodate faster traffic.
In other words, wait until you see new speed limit signs or risk a ticket.
“I thank my colleagues for helping me get this past the finish line,” said State Sen. John Murante of Gretna, who sponsored the bill. It was prioritized by Sen. Dan Hughes, who has to make a 600-mile round trip to the State Capitol from his southwest Nebraska farm near Venango.
Kyle Schneweis, director of the Transportation Department, said decisions on where to increase the speed limits will be based on road characteristics, traffic studies, crash history and other data. Posted speeds will remain unchanged unless an increase fits within safety parameters, he said.
One of the key reasons he supported the bill was to make speed limits as consistent as possible across the state. Some highways are posted with two different limits within a few miles of each other.
But safety advocates lamented the bill, pointing to research that shows a 5 mph increase in speed results in more deaths, injuries and property damage. Shaving a couple of minutes off a commute comes with a clear risk, said Laurie Klosterboer, executive director of the Nebraska Safety Council.
Mix distracted driving with faster speeds and the outcome can be fatal, she added.
“Are we taking into account the behavior our motorists are increasingly engaging in?” she asked.
Murante said he was swayed by research that shows setting the speed limit based on existing traffic flow improves safety.
“I’m confident Nebraskans will find our roadways remain safe,” he said.