Motorists would be wise to double-check the posted limit on Illinois interstates even after a new law, effective Jan. 1, raised the speed on many of them to 70 miles per hour.
It turns out the speed limit hasn’t gone up on some stretches of downstate interstate highways, including a portion of Interstate 55 around Springfield.
Beginning Wednesday, a new law took effect that increases the speed limit on interstate highways from 65 mph to 70. The new law gave the heavily populated counties of Cook, DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Will, Madison, and St. Clair the ability to opt out of the higher limits.
The law also gave the Illinois Department of Transportation latitude to set a lower limit.
“Under the law that we passed, IDOT does have the right to set a lower speed limit if they have a study that indicates 70 is too fast,” said Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, principal sponsor of the bill.
IDOT determined that lower speed limits should remain in place for most of the Chicago metropolitan area, the Metro East area, and areas around Springfield, Effingham, Mount Vernon, and Peoria.
“I am disappointed that IDOT has taken the position that they have, because I believe it is clearly more dangerous for drivers to follow the law at the lower speed than to travel at the rate most of the traffic is traveling,” Oberweis said.
He said trafficis already traveling in excess of 65 mph in those locations.
“All you have to do is drive there and they are traveling 70 to 75 mph,” he said.
IDOT spokeswoman Paris Ervin said that after the 70-mph speed limit law was approved, the department began traffic engineering studies to determine safe speed limits based on roadway and traffic conditions. Based on those studies, some downstate interstate highways continue to have lower speed limits, including through central Peoria and I-55 from north of Springfield to south of the city.
That stretch of highway is considered dangerous because of the volume of traffic and on-off ramps, such as at Stevenson Drive, that are considered too short. The latest IDOT road plan includes money to begin planning to widen that stretch of highway to six lanes instead of four and to reconfigure access ramps. The interstate has six lanes both north and south of Springfield.
“Springfield is among other areas around the state posted less than 70 mph,” Ervin said. “These areas are posted less than 70 mph as a result of the traffic engineering studies or include highways which will be restudied upon completion of major construction activities.”
The Mid-West Truckers Association didn’t take a stand on whether interstate speed limits should be increased, only that speeds be kept the same for both cars and trucks. However, Don Schaefer, association executive vice president, said that drivers probably don’t oppose the slower speeds in some areas.
“I think a lot of professional drivers would tell you they need to be there,” Schaefer said.
He said in downstate areas where IDOT has set lower limits, two or more interstate highways meet, and there is a large volume of traffic.
“They’re carrying a lot of traffic for a short distance,” he said. “You really don’t want to see them raising the speed limit around Springfield, especially. Not from our standpoint.”
Oberweis saidhe still thinks it is better to raise the speed limits to reflect what motorists are already doing.
“We’re trying to meet with [IDOT] and trying to get them to be more reasonable and cooperative,” he said.
“Do you follow [the speed limit] and take a greater risk of causing an accident, or break the law and move at the speed traffic is moving?”
Oberweis said that if he can’t reach an agreement with IDOT, “we will absolutely be coming back to the Legislature.”