Nearly 90 percent of interstate highway miles in Illinois will have 70-mph speed limits starting Wednesday, state transportation officials announced Friday, but the sponsor of the law raising the limits is upset almost all existing posted speeds in the Chicago area will remain unchanged and he vowed to push for them to be higher.
Drivers on almost 1,900 of the state's nearly 2,170 miles of interstate will be able to travel at 70 mph instead of the existing speed limits, generally 65 along rural highways, after crews post the new speed limit signs — weather permitting — Jan. 2-17, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
But only about 30 percent of the Illinois Tollway's 286-mile network will get the higher speed limit, according to a map released by IDOT. And in the Chicago area, the 70-mph limit will be posted only on five fairly short stretches of interstate. Those are sections of I-80 and I-55 in Will County, a stretch of I-57 in far southern Cook County and all of Will County, a portion of the I-88 toll road in far western Kane County and part of the I-94 tollway in northern Lake County.
"It's unacceptable," said State. Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, who sponsored the bill that Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law in August. Oberweis said he was upset that IDOT, which had the authority to draw up the speed limit map, left unchanged the 55-mph speed limit across virtually all of the Chicago region. "They're putting law-abiding citizens into danger."
"It's quite clear" that 85 percent of vehicles are traveling at 70 mph or faster on almost all expressways, Oberweis said, and that the variation between the 55-mph legal limit and 70-mph higher speed is a significant factor in crashes. Oberweis, who is running for U.S. Senate, owns a family dairy company that runs trucks on the highways.
The IDOT map was released two weeks after a Chicago Tribune analysis showed the actual speed limit — the point at which most motorists are ticketed on interstates in the six-county Chicago region — is about 80 mph. Earlier Tribune research showed 9 of 10 cars on the tollway disregard and exceed the 55-mph speed limit. The average speed in those stretches was 66-70 mph, Tribune research found.
"It's just clear that they (IDOT) are disregarding the will of the people." Oberweis said, adding that the interstates are designed to handle vehicles traveling 70 mph and speed limits were set at that level before the federal government imposed a national 55-mph limit in 1974. That limit was scrapped in 1995, and states across the U.S. have been raising highway speed limits since then.
In a statement, IDOT said the new speeds will be placed on interstate stretches "where deemed reasonable and safe." Department spokesman Paris Ervin said the agency conducted traffic engineering studies of all locations with limits below the existing 65-mph maximum and "other locations deemed necessary."
IDOT considered the widely accepted 85th percentile — the speed at which 85 percent of the traffic is traveling at or below — and "additional considerations" on those stretches before reaching its recommendations, Ervin said.
"IDOT's top priority is the safety of those using our transportation system," she added. The department and Illinois Tollway will continue reviewing "any roadway speed limit as needed, including monitoring changing traffic behaviors and the completion of construction projects," the agency's statement reported.
Oberweis said he will try to bring his push for 70-mph Chicago-area speed limits to the legislature and may settle on a 65-mph limit.
"It's a safe, reasonable and consistent speed," Oberweis said of 70 mph.Copyright © 2015, RedEye