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Highway Speed Studies Continue

March 29, 1996
By: Pablo Hernandez
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's Highway Department says it expects to have all the four lanes highways in the state posted with the new speed limits by next week.

The Highway Department has already finished the posting in the rural Interstates and most of the rural expressways. Now, they are working on the urban four-lane roads.

"We will finish the studies this week and we will start the signing next week," said Dale Ricks, Field Liaison Engineer of the Highway Department.

At the same time they are preparing the studies of the US numbered two-lane roads. But it will take nearly a month to post all the signs in these roads because they have to make the new signs.

But Ricks added that their schedule could be delayed by low temperatures and the rain which can prevent the overlay signs from sticking.

The department's studies in determining the appropriate speed limit for a road include factors such as the number of accidents, the severity of curves and the number of interchanges.

But, according to Ricks, "the safest speed limit is the speed limit the people already drive." They try to set the limit in each road according to a speed which "85% of the drivers are driving at that speed or below." This speed limit can be lowered if the other characteristics of the road make it dangerous in any way.

Ricks said he was not sure when everything would be completed because "we have never done something on this scale." But his guess was that in 3 months they will have all the important routes ready.

The Highway Department already has come under criticism for its speed-limit decisions.

Columbia has complained about a 70 mph on Highway 63 within the city limits when the speed limit within the city on I-70 is 60 mph. According to Ricks these are "two roads completely different."

Ricks said that I-70 is considerably above the statewide average of accidents, the interchanges are very close together and there is a lot of congestion. Besides the volume of traffic is much bigger in I-70.

Meanwhile Highway 63 has an average accident considerably below the average and using the "85% rule" drivers were already driving at 70 mph.

But the complains have had some effect in the Highway Patrol. "Highway 63 is being watched," said the Patrol's Lt. Ronald Beck, "and if we report a high rate of accidents I'm sure the Highway Department will lower the speed limit."

Ricks confirmed that none of the speed limits is a "set stone" and if they detect any problem in any road they will change it.

The Highway Patrol reports it has not yet noticed any change in Missouri's traffic with the change of speed limits. "It too soon to notice any changes", Beck said.