UPDATED: Bill could raise I-295 speed limit to 75 mph

AUGUSTA (AP) — Maine's Transportation Department would get the authority to raise the speed limit on Interstate 295 to 75 mph from Scarborough to West Gardiner if a bill reviewed by state lawmakers Friday becomes law.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, told the Transportation Committee that no speed limit would change automatically and that he's open to altering his bill to give the transportation commissioner the authority to set specific limits for the entire length of the interstate in Maine, up to 75 mph.

"The commissioner could then determine through thorough analysis and study if any part of our Interstate system could implement higher speeds," Chenette said. "I am amenable to lowering it 70 mph much like other states, but keep in mind the legislative intent would be to allow the commissioner up to 75 mph."

Chenette said a number of factors would go into determining raising or lowering a speed, such as how congested an area is, the number of on-ramps, painted lines or guard rails, for example.

"The intent isn't to simply hand over power to the commissioner and sit and forget it. There will not be arbitrary speed increases without proper vetting," Chenette said in his testimony to the Transportation Committee.

The speed limit for most of the 50-mile Scarborough-West Gardiner stretch, with exceptions in the Portland area, is 65 mph. AAA Northern New England said that top speed is sufficient.

"At the current maximum speed limit, this corridor experiences significant congestion and is a safety concern," AAA's Pat Moody said in testimony opposing Chenette's bill. "Raising the limit would adversely affect highway safety for the motorists of Maine."

In 2011, the Legislature passed a law allowing the commissioner to set speed limits up to 75 mph on Interstate 95 from Old Town to Houlton in the more remote northern Maine. That higher limit has been implemented.

Nina Fisher, a Transportation Department manager responsible for legislative and constituent services, told the committee she agrees that the transportation commissioner should be allowed to set speeds for all interstates in Maine. Such authority would likely eliminate a patchwork of various speeds that may not be tied to a specific need or supported by science.

Under the commissioner, "engineering science could be applied to those portions that could sustain a higher speed limit," Fisher said.

Speed limits have jumped around on Maine's Interstate highways through the years, Fisher said. It was 70 mph from 1959 to 1973, then lowered to 55 mph by federal law. Congress decided to let the speed go back up to 65 in 1987, when authority to set speeds was handed to the states, Fisher said.

The committee will hold a work session to make possible changes in the bill before it can go to the House and Senate. No date been set for the work session.

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Comments

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Speed

The point that raising the limit to 75mph. means that some people will go even faster is a valid one. I would also like to point out that there are 80 and 90 year old people driving on that road as well as new drivers who maybe will not be able to deal with cars whizzing past them very well. Add to that our climate which is not conducive to driving that fast at least 4 months of the year and it all doesn't seem like such a great idea. I wonder what the favorable points would be?

David Perry's picture

Speed Limit

First, the St. Patricks nonsense. Now this. If this is all they can manage to do in Augusta they ought to just pack up and go home and save us the expense of paying them to fool around.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Just what the doctor ordered.......

I'm not sure if Mr. Chenette, is familiar with the history of that road. I'm not sure myself why, but that road has a history of bad drivers. There have been some pretty bizarre wrecks along that highway. It may have something to do with the long stretching turns which go up and down hill. They aren't as noticable to autos, but a heavy truck struggles on them. In winter there are a lot of spin out's. I;m assuming because autos aren't aware their coming down a slight grade on ice. What ever the causes of these mysterious crashes, the solution won't be raising the speed limit.....

Peter Denby's picture

Accidents

With all the accidents that we have had recently on 295, including double digit vehicle involvement, it is NOT a good idea to increase the speed. One of the reasons that we have the accidents is that people are driving greatly different speeds, from 60 to 80 or more. As Henry Bear mentioned some people will always go around 65, no matter the speed limit, for safety, comfort and gas mileage. Some will always drive faster than the limit, and if they are driving 15 miles over the speed limit now, they will drive at 90 if the speed is raised.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Sure, why not? Drivers are

Sure, why not? Drivers are doing 75 mph,anyway. If you don't feel comfortable going 75, don't do it. The beauty of it is that if you want to, you can, without fear of drawing the heat.

Slow down ...Too fast

With respectful deference to my friend, I just want to point out that I travel I-95 between Augusta and Houlton. The speed limit from Old Town to Houlton is 75 mph, but I find that most people do not travel that fast even in the best conditions. Most drive around 65 mph. I think that's because it's good on gas and feels safer.

I am no expert, but this proposal to increase the speed limit to 75 mph from Scarborough to Gardiner, and in an obviously "high traffic volume" region, including Portland, may not be wise and would, in my respectful opinion, be unwittingly risking far too many traffic disasters along that stretch of Maine highway...especially during the tourist season.

There's an obvious reason why the only part of the Interstate highway system in Maine to have a speed limit of 75 mph exists between Old Town and Houlton. The reason is that it happens to be the only stretch of highway that can safely permit that kind of speed. And, 75 mph is very, very fast even for us "million mile" drivers who absolutely love driving as a primary transportation and leisure activity.

But, as I indicate, even though we have State permission, and although legally authorized under Maine state law to do so, driving 75 mph is not usually acted upon by Maine drivers on that portion of the Interstate, because it is very, very fast.

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