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For those who can't drive 55, MnDOT initiative for state highways is just the ticket

Nov 17, 2018 01:06PM ● By Editor
The speed limit has been increased on eastbound Highway 210 near the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport in Brainerd. According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, where road quality allows, speed limits will be increased from 55 mph to 60 on state two-lane highways. Steve Kohls / Forum News Service

By Gabriel Lagarde of the Brainerd Dispatch - November 17, 2018

ST. PAUL -- This one’s for all the speed demons out there.

As motorists might have noticed, stretches of state highways have seen speed limits increased from 55 mph to 60 mph.

As it turns out, it represents a statewide initiative to increase speed limits for two-lane highways across Minnesota, said Tom Dumont, a traffic engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Dumont said it’s been a process about a half-decade in the making, getting traffic moving through the state’s arteries at a pace that matches what motorists are typically driving -- which was about 60 mph to begin with -- which will be safer in the long run as traffic congestion lessons and roadways are used efficiently.

“State highways have pretty good design criteria,” Dumont said Tuesday, Nov. 13. “Pretty much nobody is traveling at 55. Everybody is traveling in the 60s and (state legislators) thought it would be the right thing to do. … Eighty-five percent of traffic in rural areas was traveling about 65 or low 60s.”

By creating speed limits that enable drivers to travel in groups -- without too many outliers that hold up and bottleneck groups of drivers, or aggravate the situation by driving too fast -- there are hopes to reduce the number of vehicular collisions as much as possible.

“You get one person going 45 and you’ve got 40 cars waiting to pass that person,” said Dumont, pointing to his own experience as a motorist in Crow Wing County, which is off the northwest corner of Mille Lacs Lake. “It’s just dangerous. There’s tremendous backup.”

He noted these changes were based in large part on studies by MnDOT over the course of five years, analyzing the road dynamics, state of the pavement and external conditions for each state highway in Minnesota.

Although, bear in mind that if a road doesn’t have the roadway infrastructure -- such as shoulders -- a curve-heavy serpentine route, or high crash rates, it will likely remain stuck at 55 mph. Dumont cited Highway 88 and Highway 12 by the Twin Cities as examples of roads that didn’t meet the cut.

Ultimately, the verdict is still out on how these new speed limits will affect the rate of crashes and the severity of these crashes.

“There's going to be a before and after study done on a lot of these roads -- a three-year period before and a three-year period after,” Dumont said. “Starting next year, we’re going to start gathering data. In the next couple years, we’ll start seeing some trends.”

While state highways are the main focus for now, Dumont said there is the possibility of raising speed limits for county highways as well -- namely, it’s been a point of discussion and some counties have pushed for that change, but it’s still in the early phases, if that.

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