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Speed limit hike could hit Hernando County

Published:   |   Updated: May 4, 2014 at 11:18 AM

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— Hernando County motorists who use the Suncoast Parkway, Interstate 75 and other roads soon might see the see speed limits upped 5 mph.

The Florida Senate and House have approved a measure that would increase the posted speed to 75 mph on certain stretches of state roads.

Despite worries by some lawmakers about safety and potential effects on tourists and seniors, the measure will go to Gov. Rick Scott for approval. It then would be up to Florida’s Department of Transportation to determine whether to increase minimum and maximum speed limits on all divided highways that have at least four lanes.

If approved, the speed limit hike would affect about 1,500 miles of interstates in Florida and other limited access highways.

The bill doesn’t mandate higher speed limits; rather, any increase on a given stretch of highway would occur only if state traffic engineers determine the roadway is safe enough for a higher speed.

Current law allows for 70 mph on interstates, 65 mph for highways with a divided median and 60 mph on certain other roadways, including rural highways.

Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said each road would have to be looked at individually.

“There are a lot of roads where an additional 5 mph likely would not have an impact on safety,” Nienhuis said. “But there are others where it would have a tremendous impact.”

The Suncoast Parkway and I-75, for example, probably could stand a 5-mile increase, Nienhuis said. He’s not sure what other roads might be suitable for higher speeds if the law passes. Raising the speed limit on State Road 50, for example, probably would not be a sound idea, he said.

Nienhuis said his agency works well with Florida’s Department of Transportation, and he expects there would be cooperation between the two agencies on any proposals to change speed limits on Hernando roads.

The sheriff’s office maintains data on traffic accidents and incidents, and that information would be important to pass on to the appropriate state entities, he said.

“I’m sure they would be very interested to hear our concerns,” the sheriff said.

Steve Gaskins with the Florida Highway Patrol said his agency contacted states that have increased speed limits to 75 mph to see if there has been a negative effect. “They didn’t seem to have a dramatic increases in crashes,” Gaskins said.

Some critics of the increase feared motorists would drive 80-85 mph if they were allowed to go 5 miles faster.

But in other states, motorists’ speeds topped out at about 80 mph, Gaskins said.

The federal government in 1995 did away with a nationwide 55 mph maximum speed limit and allowed states to set their own limits. Florida has had a maximum speed limit of 70 mph since 1996.

Several senators argued against the bill, saying it is not worth risking lives, especially in a state with a high number of retirees who drive slower.

“This is not the German Autobahn. If you want to make it the Floridabahn, you can do that, but that’s not the case,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. “People retire to come here, and we don’t want to run over them or frighten them as we often do, especially on the interstate.”

The News Service of Florida and contributed to this report.

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