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Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 8/14/2004

Speeding to disaster

DON'T do it.

Gov. Bob Taft and the Ohio Turnpike Commission will be making a big mistake if they raise the speed limit for trucks on the Ohio Turnpike. There are other ways to improve truck traffic on the toll road that don't carry the huge risk to public safety than that represented by semis barreling down the highway at a faster clip than before.

While it is indeed necessary that traffic be made safer on highways paralleling the turnpike - like State Rt. 2 and U.S. 20 - it makes no sense to make the turnpike less safe in return. The Ohio State Highway Patrol has long opposed raising the truck speed limit on the pike for a good, solid, reason - allowing trucks to speed up on the road could cause more accidents.

Motorists who regularly travel the turnpike-as many northwest Ohio commuters do - know that while most truckers sharing the road drive responsibly, 18-wheelers flying past motorists at speeds far above the legal limit of 55 mph are a common sight. More than a few can be seen whipsawing over lane dividers as the drivers attempt to maneuver two and three trailers at speeds higher than the posted limit.

Raise the truck speed limit to 65 mph, as the governor proposes, and it's a sure bet that some errant truckers pushing themselves to reach their destinations will stretch the limits to 75, 80, and beyond. If it's happening now with the current speed limit, what does the governor and turnpike commission expect will happen when that limit is raised?

Better public policy would be to lure truckers back to the turnpike with financial incentives. They left the turnpike in droves for secondary roads when the commission jacked up tolls 82 percent. What else would you expect when truckers were suddenly forced to pay $42.45 - nearly five times the cost for a car - to cross the state on the turnpike?

The upshot was that truck traffic doubled, tripled, and quadrupled the usual volume on two-lane roadways that run parallel to the turnpike. That made life for communities along those highways not only miserable, with long traffic jams, but infinitely more dangerous, with semis rushing around smaller vehicles in often exceedingly narrow lanes.

Besides the safety element, the sharp increases in big rigs - especially overweight ones - have beaten up highways never intended for heavy truck traffic. The Ohio Department of Transportation has to continually spend more time, revenue, and resources patching up what trucks destroy evading the turnpike.

But here's where ODOT can make a difference.

It can help bring lost trucking customers back to the turnpike, reduce high-accident sections of parallel routes like U.S. 20 in Fulton, Lucas, Wood, and Lorain counties as well as Route 2 in Lucas, Ottawa, and Erie counties, and ease the repair burden by subsidizing truck tolls on the pike. That would work to both reduce the cost to truckers and the state.

It appears ODOT's offer is the turnpike's best bet in luring big-rig operators back to the toll road without dealing with the more troublesome option of lowering truck tolls and looking for a way to replace the money.

Certainly increased safety measures for secondary roads, like better enforcement of truck weight requirements, are imperative, provided the highway patrol is given adequate resources to fulfill its responsibilities on both the pike and the smaller roads.

But rushing to raise the truck speed limit on the turnpike ahead of deliberations on financial proposals proffered is a dangerous move that directly impacts the lives of motorists on the turnpike.

Don't do it.



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