BILL COULD LET DOT SET SPEED LIMITS
By Marty Russell
The Mississippi Senate is expected to vote today on a bill that would set a ceiling on speed limits on state highways but would leave it up to the Department of Transportation to set the actual limits.
“We’re not setting the limits,” said Sen. Travis Little of Corinth, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “What we’re doing is allowing the (Mississippi) Department of Transportation to set the limits.”
The bill actually does state that, “No person shall operate a vehicle on the highways of the state at a speed greater than sixty five (65) miles per hour.”
But it goes on to state that the state highway commission “may, in its discretion, by order duly entered on its minutes, increase the speed restrictions … provided such speed restrictions are not increased to more than seventy (70) miles per hour.”
Northern District Highway Commissioner Zack Stewart was not available for comment Wednesday, but the DOT recommended in January that the state adopt essentially the same law that was in effect in Mississippi before a federally mandated 55 mph speed limit was imposed in 1974.
The old state law set the maximum speeds for cars at 70 mph for four-lane highways and 65 mph for two lanes. For trucks, however, the limits were 60 mph on four-lane roads and 55 on two lanes.
The DOT has recommended that the old speed limits be re-enacted, but that the provision for a separate speed limit for trucks be removed so that all traffic would be held to the same limit.
In addition, while the law would allow a 65 mph speed limit on two-lane highways, sources said the DOT likely would keep the limit on those highways at 55 mph. Higher speed limits on two-lane highways have drawn opposition from insurance and medical groups that fear more accidents.
“We anticipate that the majority of the two-lane/two-way roads will remain 55 mph unless engineering studies indicate that the speed can be safely increased on certain sections,” DOT Executive Director Robert Robinson said in a recent news release.
Legislation similar to the Senate’s will be considered in the House, but a spokesman for the Transportation Committee in that chamber could not say when it was likely to come to the floor for a vote. Rep. J.P. Compretta of Bay St. Louis, chairman of the committee, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The state must act by the end of the month or the old state law, complete with separate speed limits for cars and trucks, will go into effect when an extension of the old federal law runs out.
“They have to make a decision by March 1,” Donna Boatwright, a spokesperson for the DOT, said of the Legislature. “We only had 60 days from when the federal law ran out. But they know that and they’re going to get it done.”
But DOT officials said, even when the legislation is passed and becomes law, the current speed limits will continue to be enforced until the new speed limits can be posted.