The Wisconsin Department of Transportation reports that traffic deaths have fallen significantly this year. At the same time this new information was released the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a bill to raise Wisconsin’s maximum speed limit to 70 miles per hour from the current 65 MPH limit.
Aside from the debates about which roads will see speed limit increases and which roads will not, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation released data saying that 398 people had died in traffic accidents in the state this year as of the end of September, which according to the DOT and the Appleton Post-Crescent is a decrease of 80 deaths from that point in 2012. David Pabst, director of the state bureau of transportation safety says that has a lot to do with a drop in motorcycle accidents and fatalities.
Speed limit raises have always been a thorny issue in the side of public safety; according to one study done by the Iowa Department of Transportation, four states that increased limits above 65 MPH saw a 7% to 13% increase in traffic deaths in the first eight years after raising their limits. The Wisconsin bill had plenty of opponents as well. “You want to make our roads safer, you want to reconsider this. Speed does kill, Mr. Speaker,” said Rep. Brett Hulsey of Madison. A number of trucking companies oppose raising the limit for safety as well as economic and gas consumption concerns. “We oppose it for fuel mileage and safety reasons,” said Susan Deetz of Marten Transport in Mondovi in an interview with the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.
Should the law pass the state senate and be signed by Governor Walker, Wisconsin would be the last state in the Upper Midwest to allow 70 MPH speed limits after Illinois passed similar legislation earlier this year raising their speed limits from 65 to 70. Minnesota and Iowa have had 70 MPH limits since the late 1990s, and Michigan since the mid-2000s.
Each state has slightly different applications of their maximum speed laws though; for example in Minnesota only rural Interstate highways are allowed to be posted at 70 MPH; Wisconsin’s law would allow any road Interstate or not that is deemed suitable by engineers to be posted at 70 MPH to be done as such. A prime candidate for a road to be given a 70 MPH limit in the Northland would be US Highway 53 southeast of Superior, which currently carries a 65 MPH limit as a divided expressway; the road also carries sparse traffic and is almost entirely a rural route. In comparison, local highways that would not be suitable to be raised to 70 MPH are Wisconsin Highway 35 south of Superior and US Highway 2 east of Superior, because they are two-lane undivided highways. Those roads will likely remain at their current 55 MPH limits.
Specific areas such as the Blatnik Bridge and the Bong Bridge would also likely not be changed from their current 55 MPH limits because these areas are not engineered to carry a high speed limit and they are both located in urban areas.