CATEGORY: Legislature



By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON - Mississippians could be driving faster on some of the state's highways by the middle of March.

The Mississippi House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday allowing the state Department of Transportation to set speed limits within certain limitations. The bill already has passed the state Senate and now goes to the governor who can approve or veto the measure.

Under the bill that the governor will consider, the Department of Transportation could not set a speed limit of more than 70 mph on four-lane interstate and controlled-access highways. A controlled-access highway has only limited points of entrance and exit, such as U.S. Highway 78 in north Mississippi. Generally, controlled-access highways are built to interstate specifications.

On four-lane highways other than interstate and controlled-access, and on two-lane highways, the maximum speed limit the Department of Transportation can set would be 65 mph. The bill setting the limitations passed 106-13 Tuesday.

The need for the Legislature to take up the issue came about because last year the U.S. Congress returned the authority to set speed limits to the states.

If the governor approves of the proposal, Richard Young, assistant chief engineer with the Department of Transportation, said people could see speed limit signs changed to 70 mph on rural interstates and on U.S. 78 by the middle of March. The Transportation Commission meets the second Tuesday in March. The commission is expected to approve the change on rural interstates at that meeting and the department will begin immediately to put up the new signs.

Young said it will cost about $75,000, which will be taken from existing Department of Transportation funds, to change the speed limit from the current 65 mph on interstate highways to the new 70 mph.

For some, 70 mph is not enough. There was sentiment in the House to change the speed limits on rural interstates to 75 mph. Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, offered an amendment to allow the Department of Transportation to set a maximum of 75 mph on the interstates.

"I just feel like, that because of the many millions put in highways like 78 to build them to perfection, that 75 mph is not asking too much," Holland said.

Various House members spoke against and in favor of the amendment, which was defeated on a close voice vote.

"Remember folks. Speed kills," said Rep. Jim Barnett, D-Brookhaven, a medical doctor.

While the process to change the signs on the interstates will move relatively quickly, Young said the Department of Transportation will move slower on other highways. Each will be looked at on an individual basis. He said portions of some highways, like four-lane U.S. 82 from Starkville to Columbus and portions of U.S. 45, could be assigned a 65 mph speed limit.

If the governor does not sign the bill by March 1, technically under the federal law, Mississippi's speed limits would revert back to pre-1974 standards. In 1974, Congress set the speed limit at 55 mph. Before then, the speed limit on interstates in Mississippi was 70 mph for all vehicles except big trucks, which had a limit of 60 mph.

While technically the 1974 speed limits would be the law, the Department of Transportation has not made any provision to put those signs back up if the governor does not sign the bill. He said he believes a judge still would enforce the posted speed limits.

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