Going 70+ On 81

Brent Finnegan -- March 5th, 2010

Gov. Bob McDonnell recently signed a bill allowing VDOT to raise the speed limit on I-81 from 65 to 70 miles per hour. But according to a story in today’s Roanoke Times, the 60 mph limit through Harrisonburg may not change soon, if ever.

. . . it’s the Virginia Department of Transportation that decides whether to implement an actual increase and, if so, where . . . For now, I-81 will remain posted at 65 mph, except for 14.7 miles near Roanoke and segments in Harrisonburg and Winchester where the limit is 60 mph . . .

VDOT’s own tracking shows that many motorists have already driven at the planned new limit and presumably still do. In 2008, the last time the data came out, the average speed for cars on I-81 was 70 [mph] . . . (read the full article)

The story makes mention of the opposition this bill faced in General Assembly. Critics said the bill would cause more fatalities and less efficient use of fossil fuels.

From a report in the PilotOnline in January:

A 1999 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that higher speed limits enacted by 24 states in the mid-1990s resulted in 15 percent more traffic fatalities.

Tyler Madison, a member of the Sierra Club, said 55 is the optimum speed for fuel efficiency, which drops by 10 to 15 percent with a 10 mph increase in speed over that. She said a higher limit will increase the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. (read full story)


9 Responses to “Going 70+ On 81”

  1. Dan says:

    I have always thought it would be a good idea to make the posted speed limit and the enforced limit the same but I have no idea if this proposal will do that or if police will allow everyone to drive 5 mph faster. Has anyone said how police would enforce this change?

    I am persuaded by the safety and efficiency arguments against raising the limit but what are the arguments in favor of the proposal?

  2. Arguments in favor: getting there faster, I suppose.

    To be honest, I’m not sure what was behind this. I used to live in Idaho, part of a whole segment of the country where the population is low, the exits are few, and the speed limits are high. It makes sense out there, but on the densely populated east coast? Not as much.

  3. Why would you think they would RAISE the speed limit through Harrisonburg when they backed the limit down for safety reasons?

  4. The population density in places like Shenandoah County is not “dense”, that’s for sure. The County BoS tried to fight the change, but I don’t see what the problem is, myself. I already drive 70 on I-81, anyway.

    A good number of the accidents I’ve read about on I-81 aren’t so much a factor of speeding, but the inequal speeds in which people travel on it (fast truck hits slow car, and vice versa). I think raising the speed limit to 70 will equalize that a bit.

  5. Jon says:

    I am in favor of 70 mph. The Sierra Club is right about fuel efficiency, but I am not interested in going back to the bad old days when the federal 55 mph mandate was in place for interstates. However, we should be doing all we can to lessen the traffic on 81. We need high speed rail on the 81 corridor and I for one would ride it all the time.

  6. cook says:

    The roads are built for 80 mph, the cars are built for 80 mph. The 65 mph limit is arbitrary and silly; that’s why no one obeys it. We should impose a speed limit that is realistic, perhaps slowing things down around the interchanges. Then enforce it.

  7. Emmy says:

    I have no desire to go any faster on 81 than I already do, so if they raise it too much, then I’ll be one of those slow cars. I’m sorry, but I do not feel in good control of my car at 80 mph. Everyone always goes 5-10 over whatever it is so they need to really consider this.

  8. Renee says:

    I’m just confused about why McDonnell is making this change now. Not that I’m against raising speed limits in general, but from a budgetary point of view, the State Troopers could give more tickets and raise more money if the speed limit stayed low. Anything passed that could have a negative effect on the state budget that isn’t “necessary” confuses me right now.

  9. Jim says:

    I don’t think I-81 is “built for 80”. I think it’s built for 55. Long distance sight lines are very poor on many long stretches of that highway. It is also entirely too congested. 70 on a three lane highway? Maybe. On a crowded 2 line? No. I honestly believe people are far less careful and far more distracted drivers now than they were even ten years ago. Can’t wait to encounter texting drivers doing 75-80 on the interstate. And we’ll now be using up even more petroleum than we have been. I suppose that’s a good thing ultimately. I think most of the accidents on 81 are speed related. The faster one goes, the less time he or she has to react to poor drivers, slower drivers, etc. I don’t think anyone intends to raise speed limits in H-burg. At least, I hope not. The population density in Shenandoah County indeed is not dense. But much of 81 in that area of Virginia seems to me poorly laid out for high speed driving with poor long-distance visibility…much like the 20-25 miles before one gets to the Roanoke area…and traffic doesn’t significantly thin out in Shenandoah County. Ticket giving should remain constant regardless of the speed limit if troopers give out tickets for speeding. People speed regardless of the posted limit.

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