LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts is backing a proposal to raise the speed limit on parts of Interstate 80 in Nebraska as well as other state highways.
Introduced last week, the bill (LB1009) by Sens. John Murante of Gretna and Curt Friesen of Henderson would allow the state Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit on I-80 to 80 mph, up from 75 mph.
Murante said Nebraskans across the state have voiced support for raising speed limits on local highways to speed up travel between rural communities and small towns mostly connected by two-lane highways.
"We believe we can get that done and accommodate that desire without jeopardizing the people of Nebraska," he said, adding that better continuity of speed limits will benefit motorists everywhere.
The speed limit on rural highways and expressways would increase immediately if the proposal goes into effect, the Department of Transportation said.
While the transportation department is confident the recently expanded stretch of I-80 between Lincoln and Omaha could accommodate higher speeds, further study would be done before the limit would rise to 80 mph.
Other speed limit increases included in the bill are:
• 65 miles per hour on any four-lane, divided highway not part of the state highway system.
• 65 miles per hour on a “super-two highway,” a two-lane highway designed for through traffic with intermittent passing lanes.
• 70 miles per hour on an expressway or super-two highway that is part of the state highway system.
• 70 miles per hour on a freeway that is not part of the interstate system.
The speed limit for I-80 in Douglas County would remain 65 mph, as would the limits imposed on Interstate 180 in Lincoln and Interstate 129 in Dakota County.
Ricketts says the measure would make Nebraska’s transportation system more effective, efficient and customer-focused.
The proposal will likely face resistance from highway safety groups like the Nebraska Safety Council, which argue that higher speed limits have been linked to more fatalities.
According to a 20-year study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, speed limit increases of 5 mph on interstate and freeways were associated with an 8 percent increase in fatalities.
The fatality rate on other roads rose 4 percent with raised speed limits, the study said.
In all, the study linked increased speed limits across the country with 33,000 deaths from 1993 to 2013.
Mark Segerstrom, road safety project coordinator with the Nebraska Safety Council, said fatality rates in 2017 were up 3.2 percent over those in 2016.
"Now doesn't seem the time to be increasing speed limits," Segerstrom said. "Once speed limits are raised, drivers will continue to drive faster than the new limit."
Crashes resulting from distracted drivers have continued to rise for six straight years, up 29 percent from 2010, Segerstrom added. Other fatalities resulting from motorcycle, ATV, train, pedestrian and bikes were also dramatically up over previous year counts, he said.
"More work needs to be addressed at correcting the current problem we have," Segerstrom added. "This problem of elevated fatalities only intensify with a higher speed limit."
Murante said when the data is presented, "it will be a clear and convincing case to the people of Nebraska this is the right thing to do."
"I'm firmly convinced the roads will be safe and we'll be able to see some economic growth," he said.