IOWA LEGISLATURE

Higher speed limit idea stalls in Iowa Legislature

Legislators balk at high price tag for changing over 2,000 signs

Traffic travels on Interstate 380 south of Cedar Rapids in August 2009 on a section that has a 70 mph speed limit. A pro
Traffic travels on Interstate 380 south of Cedar Rapids in August 2009 on a section that has a 70 mph speed limit. A proposal to raise the speed limit on interstates from 70 mph to 75 mph stalled Tuesday in the Iowa Legislature. (The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — A House transportation panel balked at giving a speed limit bill the fast-track legislative treatment Tuesday, choosing instead to park the issue by the wayside for the 2020 session.

“I didn’t see a rallying cry to bring this up,” said Rep. David Sieck, R-Glenwood, who chaired a subcommittee on House File 2166 that failed to produce one speaker supporting the bill.

The bill would raise the speed limit from 70 mph to 75 mph on interstates, from 65 mph to 70 mph on controlled-access expressways and from 55 mph to 60 mph on other state primary and county secondary roads.

One of the things that stopped the bill in its subcommittee tracks was a projection by a state Department of Transportation lobbyist that the bill would carry a $2.3 million price tag to change 500 signs along the interstate system and about 1,700 other signs along highways where the speed limit would increase July 1.

“That’s a huge amount of money,” Sieck told fellow subcommittee members, who agreed 3-0 to table the proposal for the session.

Before the subcommittee decision, representatives for insurance companies, drivers’ education and safety programs, and the state Department of Public Safety spoke in opposition to a change that likely would have a negative effect on vehicle gas consumption, cause more severe traffic accidents at a time when the state is trying to reduce fatalities and injuries, and generate more speeding violations.

“We’re not in favor of speeding up because we have a hard enough time keeping up with the speeds now,” said Andy Nelson of Safer Driving Solutions and a drivers’ education instructor. “My students ask me, ‘Gee, why do we have to drive 55 when no one else is?’ ”

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“I wasn’t surprised by the outcome,” said Rep. Chris Hagenow, R-Urbandale, the bill’s sponsor, who offered the bill to “start the discussion” about raising speed limits in Iowa for the first time since 2005.

“There are certainly stretches of road in Iowa that could support a higher speed limit,” Hagenow noted, especially in western Iowa where the limit increases to 75 mph when Interstate 80 motorists reach the Nebraska border.

“I would be shocked if the bill moved forward,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting.

DPS Commissioner Stephan Bayens told a justice system budget subcommittee earlier Tuesday that Iowa State Patrol troopers issued 70,192 speeding citations last year, including 2,428 tickets for vehicles traveling 25 mph over the posted limit and 628 citations for vehicles that were traveling over 100 mph.

“The higher the speed limit, the higher people are going to drive and the higher the risk of fatalities will be on our roads,” DPS legislative liaison Chandlor Collins told the transportation subcommittee.

Mike Sinclair, an insurance industry lobbyist, opposed HF 2166, telling legislators “we feel like (a higher speed limit) increases the severity of accidents when they do occur.”

Previously, Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he was not interested in raising speed limits in Iowa if the proposal somehow made it through the Iowa House this year.

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