Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Many rural highways set to see higher speed limits

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 1/24/19

REGIONAL— Your trip from Tower to Ely could take a couple minutes less than before as a result of an increase in the speed limit on Hwy. 1 that will take effect as soon as new speed limit signs are …

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Many rural highways set to see higher speed limits

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REGIONAL— Your trip from Tower to Ely could take a couple minutes less than before as a result of an increase in the speed limit on Hwy. 1 that will take effect as soon as new speed limit signs are in place.

The increased speed limit is part of a statewide effort by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to boost speeds on a total of 5,240 miles of state highways based on the recommendations of a five-year study released this week. The speeds on some rural highways, including a large portion of Hwy. 1, between Cook, Tower, and Ely, will increase from 55 to 60 miles per hour under the plan.

Of the 7,000 miles studied, speed limits ultimately will be increased on 77 percent of rural, two-lane state highways, according to the final report. Most of the signs posting the new speed limits are already in place, with the rest expected to be up by spring 2019.

The Minnesota Legislature in 2014 mandated that MnDOT study all Minnesota two-lane roadways with a speed of 55 miles per hour for possible adjustments to speed limits.

It is the most comprehensive study the agency has made in terms of miles studied and level of detail, according to Nathan Drews, engineering specialist in the Office of Traffic Engineering. The latest changes represent the largest system-wide change in Minnesota speed limits since the national maximum speed limit of 55 mph was included in President Nixon’s Emergency Highway Conservation Act bill in 1974.

The $1.2 million study collected travel speed samples on each section of roadway and evaluated roadway geometrics and hazards to determine if a speed limit could be changed without affecting motorist safety.

The recommendation for a speed increase along each of these roadways considered the speed that 85 percent of motorists drive at or below along with an evaluation of other factors, such as access points, shoulder width, vertical grades and crash history.

MnDOT has conducted before-and-after studies on many roadways that recently increased to 60 mph. There was no change in the overall 85th percentile speed from before the speed limit change to after. The mean speed, which is the average speed of all drivers, increased by one mile per hour.

MnDOT plans to study the effect of the changes over the next several years to ensure these roadways continue to operate safely.

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