Speed limit jumps to 70 mph on Highways 71, 26 as higher speed limits put into place

Traffic makes itsway south out of Gering 5 mph faster thanks to a change in the law. On four-lane highways the speed limit has gone from 65 mph to 70 mph.

SCOTTSBLUFF — Motorists on the state’s highway system are getting a bump in the speed limit thanks to recently passed legislation.

New speed limit signs are now going up to notify the driving public of the changes.

LB 1009 passed on a 44-1 vote in the Legislature earlier this year. The bill allows the Nebraska Department of Transportation to increase the speed limit on designated stretches of the state’s two- and four-lane highways and expressways.

Four-lane speeds, including Highway 71 from Gering to Kimball, and Highway 26 between Scottsbluff and Mitchell, are now 70 mph, up from 65 mph.

Maximum speed on the state’s two-lane highways has also increased from 60 mph to 65 mph. That includes the super two highways that have occasional designated passing lanes.

A provision in the original bill would have also increased the speed limit on the state’s interstate highways. That section was removed before a final vote after objections were voiced from the trucking industry.

The Nebraska Safety Council also objected, showing studies that a 5 mph hike from 75 to 80 would result in more deaths, injuries and property damage.

“We want to emphasize the posted speed limit is the law,” said Jason Prokop, external affairs manager with the Nebraska Department of Transportation. “If a sign hasn’t been changed; you still have to follow the current speed.”

He said the new speeds are department standards, but can be modified by the local road districts if needed. That could include highways with construction zones and with frequent hills and curves.

“We looked at highways across the state and found that uniform speeds will help make the roads safer,” Prokop said.

District 47 Nebraska State Sen. Steve Erdman agreed, saying the state had a disparity in uniform speed limits.

“There are several roads in the state where highway speeds are restricted from the standard 65 mph,” Erdman said. “This bill was an opportunity for us to make it more uniform across the state.”

He said the decision is left up to the roads departments in each of the state’s highway districts. One example he cited was the north road to Lake McConaughy, which has a 55 mph speed limit due to heavy traffic during the summer months.

“Letting the local people decide what the local speed limit should be is the rationale of the bill,” Erdman said.

John Stinner, District 48’s state senator, said the Department of Transportation put a lot of time into studying the roads and safety precautions before LB 1009 was introduced.

“The bill had a big emphasis on making sure we didn’t create a situation where we have more fatalities and things of that nature,” Stinner said. “Safety was the important aspect of that bill.”

He said it was time to look at the state’s speed limits, given the upgrades in both roads and vehicles, so the Department of Transportation felt comfortable with the changes.

Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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