Pyke: Oberweis, tollway showdown emerging over 70 mph
New speed limits of 60 to 65 mph on toll roads proposed by agency officials have steamed state Sen. Jim Oberweis, sponsor of a 2014 law setting a 70 mph limit, and point to a showdown in Springfield.
This Thursday, Illinois tollway directors will discuss suggested changes for the Tri-State (I-294/I-94), the Reagan Memorial (I-88) and Veterans Memorial (I-355) tollways. The recommendations made by a tollway committee offer a range of speeds from the current 55 mph to 60 mph and 65 mph.
Oberweis thinks his law trumps the agency's claims that it has the legal right to set speeds, and he wants to call them on the carpet.
Ignoring the 70 mph policy is a "blatant disregard of the will of the people and a misapplication of an overwhelmingly supported law that is passed," said Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican.
"The safety of Tollway customers is our highest priority," spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.
Tollway leaders contend traffic engineers prioritized safety and used crash rates, road design and how drivers interact with exits and entrances to develop the new standards.
"We looked at travel patterns and the speeds people drive at and the common speed and the differential," Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said. "That data is all taken into account as we set the speeds."
"It may look like patchwork on a map, but when you're driving (these are) logical transition points," said Jeff Hochmuth, a traffic engineer with tollway consultant CDM Smith.
Oberweis intends to ask the Senate's Transportation Committee chairman to hold a hearing in Springfield where tollway officials can explain their actions.
"The law makes it very clear, the speed is 70 mph on all tollways unless they do a legitimate study indicating 70 mph is not safe," he said.
Tollway leaders countered that the Illinois Vehicle Code empowers the tollway to raise its maximum speed limits after engineering and traffic investigations.
"If a safe and reasonable increase in the speed limit is warranted," the tollway then obtains approvals from IDOT, the tollway board of directors and a state commission on administrative rules, Abrams said.
Oberweis disagreed. He cited a widely used standard of setting speeds by calculating what 85 percent of drivers are traveling at under good conditions. That would place average toll road speeds at around 72 to 73, he said.
Tollway officials countered that the "85th percentile is the starting point when determining speed limits."
CDM Smith reviewed the policies of 18 states for which speed limit-setting procedures are publicly available and could not find a single state that used the 85th percentile speed independent of any other factors, Abrams said.
Wheaton resident Steve Doner, a National Motorists Association member, thinks the tollway did not use speed-calculating software from the U.S. Department of Transportation properly.
If the agency's new limits are put in place, the results will be speed traps and dangerous conditions for those who follow the posted limits, such as student drivers, he warned.
"The tollway's recommendation of 55 mph to 60 mph limits for most of the urban tollways does not stand up to independent analysis and scrutiny," Doner said.
You should know
Here are the proposed changes:
• On the Tri-State: increase speed from 55 mph to 60 mph between I-57 and I-55; increase speed from 55 mph to 60 mph between Touhy and Deerfield Road; increase speed for cars and buses from 55 mph to 65 mph between Deerfield and Stearns School Road near Gurnee Mills.
The rationale was based on a high northbound crash rate approaching Grand Avenue of 1.27 crashes per million vehicle miles traveled compared to a statewide average of .90, Abrams said.
• On I-88: increase speed from 55 mph to 60 mph from the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) to Route 31; increase speed from 55 mph to 65 mph between Route 31 and Orchard Road; increase speed from 55 mph to 65 mph between Orchard and the Kane/DeKalb County line.
Abrams noted on I-88 from Route 31 to Route 47 in Kane County, the worst section has a crash rate of 1.70 crashes per million vehicle miles traveled.
The statewide rural interstate rate is .43.
• On I-355: increase speed from 55 mph to 60 mph between I-55 and Army Trail Road.
A center section of the Tri-State between Touhy and I-55 would stay at 55 mph, under the plan. So would the Edens Spur, which has a high crash rate of 2.07 crashes per million vehicle miles, Abrams said.
Currently, speeds on most toll roads in the six-county region are 55 mph, although 65 mph is legal in a few less-populated areas.
Got an opinion on the new speeds? Bet you do. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hang in there, I-90 nation. The latest traffic tweak begins this week with prep work to remove the I-90 bridge over Route 31.
Expect daytime lane closures in both directions on Route 31 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
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