STILL 70: The legislature wants to move up the limit, but the Constittution might stand in the way. Arkansas Business

The legislature is intent on raising the speed limit on rural freeways from 70 to 75 (70 for trucks). But can they?

The Senate voted 32-1 Monday for HB 1631 by Rep. DeAnn Vaught (R-Horatio) HB 1631. The bill was endorsed, with Senate amendments, in House committee Tuesday and should be on the House calendar Wednesday.  For the record: the new limit would apply to controlled access highways outside urban areas with at least four lanes and divided by a median strip.

All done, right? I wondered. Because you perhaps recall the Arkansas constitutional amendment that gave independence to the Arkansas Highway Commission. Its power is presumably why an earlier law allowed the Highway Commission to raise the speed limit, subject to engineering and traffic study. The Commission has not done so. Some careful thoughts think lower speed limits hold down traffic fatalities.

Legislators apparently have gotten impatient, thus this year’s legislation.

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So I asked the Arkansas Department of Transportation a simple question: Does the DOT think the legislature can dictate speed limits? Danny Straessle responded:

Amendment 42 of the state’s Constitution says the State Highway Commission is “vested with all the powers and duties now or hereafter imposed by law for the administration of the State Highway Department” and has the Constitutional authority to “carry out fully and effectively the regulations and laws relating to the State Highway Department.”

While the first paragraph of HB1631 appears to set a maximum speed limit for motor vehicles on a controlled-access highway (which is a task historically undertaken by minute order of the State Highway Commission pursuant to Amendment 42), subsection (b)(3) of the bill continues to appropriately recognize the authority of the State Highway Commission to decrease the referenced maximum speed limit upon an engineering and traffic investigation.

I asked a followup: So are speed limits going up or not? Straessle responded:

We’ll have to study locations to see where lower limits would be justified. The act isn’t in effect yet, so at this time there is no timetable for the study.

Sounds like it’s worth staying tuned.