Advocates For 70 MPH Speed Limits Hope To Convince Tollway To Increase Posted Speeds At December Board Meeting

Tollway Board Room

The Illinois Tollway Board Room from last month’s meeting. Photo credit: Steve Dorner.

Motorists interested in weighing in on speed limits on Illinois Tollways will have one last chance to address the Tollway’s Board of Directors at a meeting Thursday morning.

Advocates of raising the speed limit on the tollway system are viewing the meeting as one last chance to convince the board to allow speed limits to go up to 70 mph on most of the system.

A bill sponsored by Illinois State Senator Jim Oberweis to increase the speed limit on all state expressways passed overwhelmingly in both houses of the Illinois General Assembly and was signed by Governor Pat Quinn in August.

However, the Illinois Tollway is allowed an exception under the law to set speed limits lower than 70 mph.

Oberweis along with Steve Dorner and James Walker, advocates for a faster speed limit and both affiliated with the National Motorists Association, believe the higher posted limit is safer than the current 55 mph posted speed limit. They feel the discrepancy of speed between those drivers following the law and the many others traveling at faster speeds increases the chances of crashes.

The three have been pressing the board to raise the speed limit based on the the traffic studies commissioned by the Tollway Authority are showing that most vehicles in free flowing traffic are traveling at or just over the 70 mph. Based on the 85th percentile traffic engineering standard used for establishing speed limits, which says the safest speed limit is set at the average speed of 85% of vehicles traveling a roadway when there’s no congestion, they say the tollway speed limit should be 70 mph.

This month’s meeting will be held Thursday, December 19th at 9 AM at the Illinois Tollway’s Central Administration Building located at 2700 Ogden Avenue in Downers Grove.

Attendees wishing to speak are given two minutes to address the board.

16 Responses to Advocates For 70 MPH Speed Limits Hope To Convince Tollway To Increase Posted Speeds At December Board Meeting

  1. So if we raise the tollway speed limit to 70, and then 85 percent of drivers start going 85 mph, should we raise the speed limit again to 85?

  2. Steve Doner says:

    Mr Greenfield and anyone else who thinks people will exceed the speed limit no matter what it is, this assumption is false and has been proven false time and time again. It has even been shown to be false within the metro Chicago area on the Illinois Tollways. The Tollway’s own data shows that actual speeds are virtually identical on segments posted at 55 and segments posted at 55.

    Police and motorists generally consider the “real speed limit” in the area to be 80 mph. So why not leave it alone? The 25 mph difference between the “real” and the “pretend” limit means (for one thing) that tickets which are written for over 80 mph (60% of all tickets are) will require motorists to hire an attorney. Why? Because 1 mph over the real limit is 26 over the pretend limit which means you can go to jail for a year. Traffic attorneys are salivating at the prospect of increased business.

  3. Steve Doner says:

    Correction to previous post – the Tollway’s own data shows that actual speeds are virtually identical on segments posted at 55 and segments posted at 65 (such as I-355 south of I-55).

    The tollway’s chief engineer also remarked to us that when that segment of I-355 was increased from 55 to 65 that the average speed only increased 1-2 mph and that speed variance decreased (which is precisely our point). The 2-4% of motorists who actually go 55 are a hazard to themselves and to others. The 55 limit endangers some of our most vulnerable drivers, like kids fresh out of drivers ed who have not yet learned that the 55 limit isnt real.

  4. David says:

    The problem is that if the limit goes up, we will see some drivers going faster yet. In fact, I can name a number of posters here that I am sure will once again push there cars to 24 MPH above the posted limit… And that, in turn, will drive more of the slower drivers off the road, which in turn will raise the 85th percentile. Wash and repeat and we have 90+ mph limits on the tollways for higher performance cars.

    I drove to and from Detroit on I-94 last week…. 70 MPH in the car that I had rented was “uncomfortable”, but was the posted Speed Limit and thus everyone was maintaining at least that — even through the Snow…. except for the 1.5 hours spent in a many mile backup because some drivers “mis-judged” the limit and had an accident which closed the road. The problem is that most drivers “assumed” that the 70 MPH limit was “safe” and thus adhered to it even though it was not justified by the road conditions….. Had the limit been 65 or 60, my guess is that this would have been the “speed” for the cars in the bad weather…..

  5. Stephen says:

    People drive what they feel is a safe speed. Having driven parts of I-94 in Northern IL and I-294 and I-80 the speed limit of 70 is right on the money.

    Drivers are not going to go higher if they don’t feel comfortable. I have driven roads with 70 mph and 75 mph limits in other states and I still drive just under 78 mph. That is my comfort speed on many rural interstates. 65 to 70 on most of the Chicago area expressways will better match travel speeds with reality.

  6. For John Greenfield and David:

    The belief that drivers will always go “10 or 15 over” is simply false. One very good example is the one Steve Doner mentioned from the Tollway statistics. Raising the limit from 55 to 65 on I-355 raised the actual 85th percentile speeds by only 2 mph and reduced the speed variance for a smoother and safer flow overall. That is normal.

    For another example, I have done extensive speed studies on I-10 in west Texas in VERY rural counties where traffic is light, distances between interchanges are long, visibility almost always exceeds a mile, enforcement is rare, and the weather is good most of the time. The road is posted at 80 mph, the 85th percentile speeds varied from 81 to 84 mph, and only 1% of the vehicles were at 90 mph or higher under perfect conditions.

    WHY don’t most drivers go faster than the low 80 mph range, even in places where a competent driver in a modern car could go 100 mph all day under good conditions without endangering anyone? This is because most drivers do not feel safe and comfortable at speeds above the low 80s, even under the most perfect light traffic conditions. It takes too much concentration to go at those speeds.

    For David: Your experience on I-94 is one of the conditions where officers should be patrolling to look for drivers that are going “too fast for conditions”. This is the “Basic Speed Limit Law” in every state and is a VERY valid reason to be ticketed for unsafe driving. But posting an artificially low limit to try to reduce overall travel speeds in case the drivers encounter congestion, snow, fog, etc. is BAD engineering.

    I had an experience with a Corvette equipped with summer tires on I-94 in freezing rain. The MAXIMUM safe speed for that car under those conditions was about 20 mph. It is the driver’s responsibility to drive for the conditions. This is similarly true for congestion. The limit on most Michigan urban freeways is 70 mph, but at rush hours the prudent speeds are more like 20 or 30 mph and doing 70 would be flatly impossible.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

  7. B says:

    David, I own a 1973 Maverick with a 250cid I6, three on the tree, manual recirculating ball and joint steering, manual four wheel drum brakes, leaf spring rear suspension… and maybe I could put the original narrow wheels with bias ply tires on it. When this car was built, the speed limits were 70mph. For about a year it was legal to drive this car at 70mph. This car when everything is in good shape is comfortable at 70mph except for being around cars that can out brake it by a large gap. But back in the early 1970s it was just on the downside of the distribution.

    The idea that any modern car is uncomfortable at 70mph, is BS except for maybe the fact the rental might have been on the wrong sort of tires for the weather. Other than that, you were uncomfortable, and that’s how typical americans think, that what they are uncomfortable with should be the law for everyone. Put me in a van or a truck and I don’t want to go over 65 on a clear sunny day in the summer. I hate big vehicles, I am uncomfortable driving them, but I don’t think everyone should be limited to my comfort level in those vehicles.

    In Germany the limited access highways are shared by everything from 200mph Porsches to old 2CVs. The 2CV if you don’t know cars has very little power. Downhill with a tailwind I think they can get to 60mph, that might actually may be more than they are capable of. But in Germany they have this thing called lane discipline. Keep right except to pass. It even has a word in German, rechtsfahren.

    Americans don’t have lane discipline. It hasn’t been taught in forty years I figure. When the 55mph NMSL was imposed people decided since they were going the speed limit or more they could be in any lane they wanted when they wanted. Joan Claybrook actually proclaimed this to be “safe” by saying something to the effect that because if forced faster drivers to slow to weave through it made the roads safer. The full quote is in Mark Rask’s book “American Autobahn” which I am too lazy to pull from the shelf and find the quote in right now.

    People do not crash in the snow from going too fast. They crash in the snow because they exceeded the available traction. American drivers by and large do not plan their driving several moves in advance. Driving in snow demands it to drive faster than a snails pace. Because they do not plan ahead they end up faced with needing to make sudden changes in speed and/or direction and there isn’t the traction to do it. Those of us who have become habitualized into driving such that we are seeing our moves well in advance can stay with in the limits of traction. So what you really meant is that drivers who weren’t paying enough attention to their driving crashed because they had to make sudden moves from a speed high enough that they exceeded the traction available. There’s other problems with the way people drive in snow too, like not understanding momentum.

    Another issue is tires. The number of people driving on tires that have no business ever seeing the road let alone snow is shocking. Start looking at the tires on people’s cars. I’ve seen high end cars being driven on tires below the wear bars. The ignorance here is a key reason why crashes happen, not speed. If americans wanted safety through authoritarian law then we should have tread depth checkpoints to get these people off the road until they purchased new tires not absurdly low speed limits that are still outside the limits of tires where the steel belts are showing.

    Dumbing things down is what makes this country aggravating to live in. It seems just about everyone wants a bunch of sociopaths with political power to play parent while everyone else gets treated like mentally handicapped children with violence being the corrective tool of choice. It’s absurd. It’s beyond absurd.

    Lastly, on this speed limit law. The idea that the speed limits would be increased to 70mph… it is not going to happen IMO. The law as I last read it only permits the state to raise the speed limits, it does not force the state to do so. Thus, all it has done, is criminalize 81mph with life altering punishments. It’s a ruse, the lawmakers knew it.This makes money for the system. The lawyers, the judges, the jailers, and all the rest. 6 months in jail for going 11mph faster than what was legal in 1973 and doing it a car that could literally run circles around a ’73.

    Speed kills folks, what is safer, the red car at 81mph or the blue one at 55 or 70 mph?
    BTW, the blue one is wearing much better tires than it came with from the factory.

  8. B says:

    I wish I had seen this before the meeting, I could have actually made it to this one. Not that it would have made much difference. However there is no time limit on when the limit can be raised, this is just the last chance to get it decided before 1-Jan-14, even if decided now the signs wouldn’t change until at least March I’d figure.

  9. […] National Motorists Association Want Tollway Speed Limits Raised to 70 (Expired Meter) […]

  10. saucexx says:

    John’s right, how are pedestrians going to cross our tollways at 70mph? How unsafe will they be once road diets are expanded to put in bike lanes? How can Pace bus service navigate that life threatening speed? It is a science FACT that automobiles traveling faster than a person walking is a death machine. Oh the humanity (sarcasm off).

    I’ve driven our expressways daily for the last 25 years and 70mph is the de facto speed limit. On the tollways it might even be higher. It’s about time the posted speed matched that fact.

  11. Steve Doner says:

    “B” is correct in saying that this is not the end of the fight by any stretch of the imagination. Realistically, this will not get done until well into 2014. THE TOLLWAY DID NOT EVEN DO THE REQUISITE SPEED STUDIES FOR THE CHICAGO METRO AREA. The Tollway hired CDM Smith (an outside traffic engineering firm) but ONLY CONDUCTED STUDIES FOR RURAL AREAS ALREADY POSTED AT 65 (except for one 6 mile segment at the WI border). The next step needed is for the board to press Tollway executives to do the formal studies for Chicagoland. Of course the tollway has data showing that roughly 96% of people ignore 55, but the formal studies are required to be done before the limits can be raised. We think the metro area was deliberately omitted from the studies because of pressures from Springfield. Some say our governor does not want a higher limit for Chicagoland. Why? We don’t know. My personal speculation is that the insurance lobby has his ear.

    Illinois is number one in the nation for being home to auto insurance companies like Allstate and State Farm which are the two largest. We also have lots of traffic lawyers.

    Insurers benefit from under-posted limits because some of the safest drivers end up getting tickets (and thus insurance surcharges). More revenue for the insurance companies without taking on any additional risk. In fact its less risk in some cases.

    Traffic attorneys will have a field day when 81 mph becomes a criminal offense punishable by a year in jail (starting January 1, 2014).

    And of course the speed camera companies are watching the situation too. When speed limits are reasonable, fewer tickets are issued and speed cameras no longer justify their own cost.

    Maybe the Tollway leaders and IDOT and Governor just don’t get it, but I find that hard to swallow. I think that in their heart of hearts the Tollway’s engineers agree with our position, but they can’t say it without losing their jobs.

  12. Steve Doner says:

    The Tollway’s Board of Directors, Executive Leadership and Engineers were given the two presentations at the link below along with letters from Jim Walker and myself. Walker is Executive Director of the National Motorists Association Foundation and has studied these matters for more than 50 years. I am a Life Member and former Illinois Chapter Coordinator for the National Motorists Association.

  13. B says:

    Steve, according to:

    (625 ILCS 5/11-601.5)
    Sec. 11-601.5. Driving 26 31 miles per hour or more in
    excess of applicable limit.
    (a) A person who drives a vehicle upon any highway of this
    State at a speed that is 26 miles per hour or more but less
    than 35 miles per hour in excess of the applicable maximum
    speed limit established under this Chapter or a local ordinance
    commits a Class B misdemeanor.
    (b) A person who drives a vehicle upon any highway of this
    State at a speed that is 35 miles per hour or more in excess
    of the applicable maximum speed limit established under this
    Chapter or a local ordinance commits a Class A misdemeanor.
    (Source: P.A. 96-1002, eff. 1-1-11; 96-1507, eff. 1-27-11.)

    A Class B misdemeanor is 180 days in jail (6 months) and a fine of up to $1500. Class A is one year. per:

    (730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-60)
    Sec. 5-4.5-60. CLASS B MISDEMEANORS; SENTENCE. For a Class B misdemeanor:
    (a) TERM. The sentence of imprisonment shall be a determinate sentence of not more than 6 months.
    (e) FINE. A fine not to exceed $1,500 for each offense or the amount specified in the offense, whichever is greater, may be imposed. A fine may be imposed in addition to a sentence of conditional discharge, probation, periodic imprisonment, or imprisonment.

    If we lived in a civilized driving society like Germany most if not all of I-294 would simply be derestricted for at least a good hunk of every 24 hour period.

    What caps safe speed at any given time and any given section is traffic density, a lack of lane discipline by drivers, pavement condition, and weather. These are all judgment calls that can make the safe speed anywhere from zero on up.

    It would have variable speed limits at the very worst. Where two am on clear july night would be derestricted.

  14. Tony says:

    Before 1974 the speed limits on Chicago area expressways and toll ways was 65 to 70mph and we did fine with them if the federal government never imposed the 55mph speed limit they would still be that way so what’s the difference if the federal government never imposed the 55 or if we put them back that way now.

  15. Steve Doner says:

    Concerning congestion – speed already self-regulates just fine during high traffic periods. Whether the speed limit is 25 or 95, rush hour will chug along at 45 mph – ish in many areas.

  16. Jeff says:

    Perhaps someday technology will allow posted highway speeds to be adjusted automatically, to consider the current weather, traffic volume, accidents, construction, and other factors. By allowing speeds to be adjusted up and down, the posted speed will match the actual driving conditions, allowing for safer driving and optimal traffic flow. Obviously this will take a long time to develop and test, but the possibilities are interesting.

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