By Meredith Colias
Speed limits on interstate highways in most of downstate Illinois could jump to 70 mph if a bill passed by the legislature gets Gov. Pat Quinn’s approval.
Senate Bill 2356 passed the House on an 84-30 vote. It now goes to the governor’s desk, but it is not known if he will sign it into law. A spokeswoman for the governor was non-committal on the legislation, saying he would review it. But departments under Quinn’s purview oppose the legislation.
Supporters of the bill said Illinois should join other states that already have speed limits of 70 mph or above. A higher speed limit would also allow commercial transportation to bring goods across the state faster.
Thirty-four states already have speed limits of at least 70 mph on their highways. Sixteen, including Illinois, currently have speed limits of at least 65 mph.
The measure’s sponsor, Smithton Democrat Rep. Jerry Costello, said most drivers are already driving 72 to 74 mph.
The Illinois Department of Transportation is opposed to the bill because it said raising speed limits would only encourage more accidents. Typically, motorists already drive at a few miles per hour over the speed limit, and IDOT is concerned that “crashes and fatalities can be expected to increase,” if the limit is changed, said IDOT spokeswoman Paris Ervin.
To protect the state’s most-populated areas, Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kane, McHenry, Will, Madison and St. Clair counties would be given the option to ignore the measure and set lower limits. Ervin said even allowing higher speed limits in rural areas could cause additional problems.
In those areas, “speed-related fatalities are significantly higher than national averages, mainly because drivers tend to drive 5 to 10 mph above posted limits,” she said in an email.
Lawmakers who voted against the bill said it would pose a greater danger on the roads. When raising the speed limit, “you also kill a lot more people,” Chicago Democrat House Leader Barbara Flynn Currie said.
The Senate sponsor, Sugar Grove Republican Sen. Jim Oberweis, is also the chairman of Aurora-based Oberweis Dairy, something that was not lost during the debate. The bill is the first he has sponsored in his Senate career.
“If we pass this, how much faster will that Oberweis Dairy truck get to your district?” Chicago Democrat Rep. Deborah Mell asked Costello. Raising the speed limit, Mell said, is not worth risking safety of drivers for convenience on the roads.
“This is the same bill they have tried to pass against the safety of the people of Illinois,” Chicago Democrat Rep. Monique Davis said.
Costello said raising the speed limit would actually make drivers safer because accidents are more common at lower speeds.
“It is safer if we close that disparity in speed,” he said.