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Published: Wednesday, 4/1/2009

Speed limit to be raised for truckers on interstate roads


COLUMBUS - A bill raising truck speed limits on interstates to 65 mph sped to the governor's desk Wednesday despite concerns it might lead to more accidents and fatalities.

The change, which will take effect in three months, was one of numerous provisions tucked into a $9.2 billion, two-year transportation and public safety budget that also imposes a variety of fee hikes on truckers. Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to quickly sign the bill.

Gary Ellerbrock, 59, of Findlay, a commercial trucker for 14 years, isn't traveling in the same lane as many of his counterparts when it comes to raising the speed limit.

"Most guys want it," he said. "A lot of them are paid by the mile, but we're going to see more deaths, more fatal accidents involving trucks. I'd like to see 60 mph for both [trucks and passenger vehicles]. If the limit is 65, they're going to go 70."

Compared with other provisions of the transportation budget, like renewed emphasis on passenger rail service and the possibility of new toll roads, the higher truck speed limit has received scant attention. It merited barely a mention in House debate Wednesday.

Supporters of the faster speed limit for trucks have argued it would improve the flow of traffic and reduce the number of accidents caused by vehicles traveling at non-uniform speeds.

"I think it's more dangerous for vehicles to travel at two different speeds with cars feeling the need to weave in and out," said Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Sylvania). "Cars come up on a truck, slam on the brakes, and then try to get into the other lane to go around it. I do a lot of driving, obviously, and it's frustrating to be behind two trucks going 55 and 56."

Ms. Sears, however, was one of a handful of Republican lawmakers who ultimately voted against the bill, citing the increased fees as one reason.

Ohio is one of just 11 states that set lower speeds for trucks than smaller passenger vehicles and pickup trucks on free highways. The only stretch of road in the state where trucks can travel 65 mph is the Ohio Turnpike, where limits were increased and tolls decreased in 2004 in hopes of diverting large commercial trucks off narrower, more accident prone parallel routes like Routes 2 and U.S. 20.

Detractors, however, argue that heavy trucks traveling at faster speeds will have a tougher time stopping in reaction to problems ahead.

"We do continue to have concerns because of a comprehensive study that was conducted on the Ohio Turnpike when speeds were increased," said Lt. Tony Bradshaw of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. "The study showed that trucks involved in crashes increased."

A study by the patrol between September, 2004 and March, 2006 showed that the increased truck limit on the turnpike experiment achieved the goal of reducing accidents involving commercial vehicles on the parallel routes by 7 percent. But the number of crashes involving commercial vehicles on the turnpike jumped 32 percent during the evaluation period.

The higher speed limit was added in the Senate after the transportation budget had passed the House. The final version of the bill would allow trucks now limited to 55 mph, those that weigh 8,000 pounds or more when empty, to match the speed limit of smaller vehicles on limited access interstates.

"The effort was made to work with the trucking industry to balance off the state's needs with the industry's needs," said Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo), the sponsor of the bill and chairman of the conference committee. "There was the issue of the damage that trucks do and the fact that the economic impact of transportation in Ohio is very critical. This was an appropriate set of compromises."

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