Ohio Senate Transportation Committee panel OKs 70 mph rural interstate speed limit

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio senators are speeding forward on a measure that would increase Ohio's speed limit to 70 mph.

The higher limit on non-urban interstate highways passed a key committee vote Tuesday. Raising the limit would bring the transportation-heavy state in line with all but 16 other states that limit non-truck drivers in rural areas to 65 mph or less.

The legislation still requires a full Senate vote and a sign-off by the House.

The 65 mph limit for cars and other light vehicles is prevalent in New England and remains the rural rule in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and a few other states, according to data compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Hawaii's highest posted limit is 60 mph.

Most states with higher limits allow non-truck drivers to go 70 mph or 75 mph, according to institute data. Utah allows drivers in certain regions to go as fast as 80 mph, and 85 mph is allowed in areas of Texas.

The Ohio proposal, which passed the committee 7-2, would set the maximum speed limit for interstate freeway outerbelts in urban areas at 65 mph and on freeways in congested areas at 55 mph.

The state Senate Transportation Committee revised the legislation Monday also to include a new guarantee that 90 percent of proceeds from a $1.5 billion Ohio Turnpike bond sale proposed by Republican Gov. John Kasich go to northern Ohio. That was done through language that limits spending on those funds to road and bridge projects within 75 miles of the Turnpike.

The updated measure also calls for freezing toll rates for local E-ZPass users through 2023 on trips of 30 miles or less. It does not cap tolls for other motorists.

The toll freeze on short-range trips and the funding guarantee for northern Ohio were part of the original turnpike proposal laid out by Kasich, but the administration had backed off both citing concern that placing too many restrictions on the spending of the money would diminish the value of the financial deal. Attempts to add both provisions in the budget-writing Ohio House Finance Committee were rejected.

State transportation officials have also said the funding guarantee for northern Ohio will make it difficult to spend all the proceeds north of U.S. 30 and a mandate could keep vital projects in other regions of the state from getting funded. Northern Ohio communities have countered that they have paid a higher proportion of the tolls on the Turnpike and are dependent on the 241-mile toll road that cuts runs across northern Ohio from Pennsylvania to Indiana.

The bond deal was pitched by Kasich as a way to address a looming $1.6 billion hole in the state transportation budget.

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