Tollway committee OKs plan to increase speed limits, but not to 70 mph

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An Illinois Tollway committee on Thursday recommended increasing speed limits on portions of the Tri-State, Reagan Memorial and Veterans Memorial tollways, but not to the 70 mph allowed under a new law.

Speed limits will increase from 55 mph to either 60 mph or 65 mph under the proposal.

Tollway officials said a 70 mph limit is permitted under a law that went into effect Jan. 1, but the agency can adjust the limit downward based on expert analysis.

Experts from CDM Smith recommended the speed limit changes after analyzing tollway travel three different ways, including what speeds 85 percent of traffic travels under ideal conditions.

They then made adjustments based on physical attributes of the road, such as curves, as well as high crash locations, the number of merging points, and congestion hotspots such as the area near the Six Flags Great America amusement park in Gurnee.

The Tollway’s Customer Service and Planning Committee recommended the changes, which must now go to the full Tollway Board for approval. The Illinois Department of Transportation and the Joint Committee of Administrative Rules also must sign off on the recommendations.

If all approve, the new speed limits could be posted in June or July, officials said. The changes would mean 62 percent of the tollway system will have had speed limits increased to the “most safe and efficient speed over the last five years,” tollway officials said in a news release Thursday.

Based on prior state legislation, speed limits increased to 70 mph on Interstate 90 west of the Interstate 39 interchange in Winnebago County and on the western portion of Interstate 88 in DeKalb, Ogle and Lee counties.

State Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Republican from Sugar Grove and an ice cream company magnate, says he believed the law required the tollway to impose a 70 mph speed limit across the entire system as of Jan. 1, and then adjust downward if analyses warranted it. The agency had plenty of time to complete a study before Jan. 1, he said.

“I am incredibly disappointed that the head of one of our state agencies would totally disregard the will of the people,’’ Oberweis said.

Although he had not seen the tollway study as of midday Thursday, Oberweis said he suspected it was “bogus” and set up to produce the results the tollway wanted.

Some members of the National Motor Association found the dominant speed during normal conditions on portions of I-355 was 72 or 73 mph, and some studies indicate vehicles traveling 10 mph above or below the dominant traffic flow are those most likely to be involved in accidents, he said.

Tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said the tollway also is bound by the Illinois Vehicle Code, which requires the agency to conduct an engineering and traffic investigation before recommending any speed limit changes, and then obtain concurrence from IDOT and the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules.

CDM Smith is a “nationally recognized expert” in the field, Abrams said, and its recommendations represented only those portions of the tollway system where analysis indicated increases could be safely implemented.

“The safety of tollway customers is our highest priority,’’ Abrams said.





Illinois Tollway Committee recommendations for new tollway speed limits:

Tri-State Tollway (I-94/I-294/I-80):

  • I-294 between the I-57 Interchange to the I-55 Interchange – increase from 55 mph to 60 mph for all traffic
  • I-294 between Touhy Avenue and Deerfield Road – increase from 55 mph to 60 mph for all traffic
  • I-94 between Deerfield Road and Stearns School Road – increase from 55 to 65 mph for cars and buses, 55 to 60 mph for trucks.

Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88):

  • I-88 between Eisenhower Expressway and to Illinois 31 – increase from 55 to 60 mph for all traffic
  • I-88 between Illinois 31 and Orchard Road – increase from 55 to 65 mph for cars and buses, from 55 to 60 mph for trucks
  • I-88 between Orchard Road and the Kane/DeKalb County line – increase from 55 to 65 mph for buses, increase from 55 to 60 mph for trucks (cars remain at 65 mph).

Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355):

  • I-355 between I-55 to Army Trail Road – recommended increase from 55 to 60 mph for all traffic
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