Tollway sets higher speed limits, bucks state law
Faster legal speeds on many Illinois toll roads got a thumb's up from the agency's board Thursday but will face scrutiny from state lawmakers in April.
The changes involve new speeds for the Tri-State (I-294/I-94), the Reagan Memorial (I-88) and Veterans Memorial (I-355) tollways. The recommendations provide a range from the current 55 mph to 60 mph and 65 mph.
"We've looked at national data and we've look at internal data on crashes ... it's really about safety," Chairman Paula Wolff said. "I accept the recommendations that this is safest thing to do."
But state Sen. Jim Oberweis thinks the agency is flouting a recent law he sponsored setting a 70 mph limit on toll roads.
Oberweis has asked the Senate's Transportation Committee chairman to hold a hearing in Springfield where tollway officials can explain their actions. That meeting should occur in April, Oberweis said Thursday.
"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," Oberweis said last week.
"Setting speed limits is always a balance between safety and efficiency," tollway consulting engineer Jeff Hochmuth said. "The speed limits have already resulted in the last four years being the lowest crash rates in the tollway's history. The changes, we think, are reasonable increases that will increase efficiency and won't affect safety, at least not negatively."
Asked if she followed limits on toll roads, Wolff said, "I am very meticulous at following the speed limit."
Aurora Mayor and board director Tom Weisner cast the sole vote against, saying it wasn't realistic. "What I see under the current system is people breaking the law without consequences. I don't think that's going to change by moving it to 60 mph and I have some qualms about that."
Tollway leaders contend the Illinois Vehicle Code empowers the tollway to raise its maximum speed limits after engineering and traffic investigations. The next steps are to obtain approval from IDOT and a state committee on administrative rules.
Oberweis 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.
Wheaton resident Steve Doner, a National Motorists Association member, said policies that don't match prevailing speeds in excess of 70 mph are dangerous, particularly for student drivers who follow the law when others weave to avoid slower cars.
"Folks driving the legal limit are a danger to themselves and others," he said.
Here are specifics of the tollway's proposals:
• 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.
• 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.
• On I-355: increase speed from 55 mph to 60 mph between I-55 and Army Trail Road.
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.