September 15, 2020

In June, the Arkansas State Highway Commission approved increasing the speed limit from 70 to 75 mph on rural interstates and from 60 to 65 mph on urban interstates.  Although the commission authorized the change in 2017, this did not go into effect until the signs were changed.  That finally happened last week on the stretch going north on I-49.  A spokesperson said, “From an engineering standpoint the highways can handle it, but from a human behavior standpoint, we can’t legislate that, so we’re going to watch this very carefully. If we do see a spike in serious crashes, serious injury crashes, or fatalities we have the authority to go back in and do a study and lower those speed limits again.”  The change of speed limit signs and implementing the project will cost about $350,000.

This reminds me of the 80 mph speed limits Kansas used to have on I-70 during the late 1960’s.  This is the stretch of highway that runs from Kansas City (Missouri boarder) to Denver (Colorado boarder).  This was lowered to 75 mph in 1970.  While the stated reason was to save lives, the rumor was the higher speed enabled drivers to wake up in Missouri and easily drive to Denver, missing a stay in Kansas entirely.  The oil crisis of 1973 prompted the National Maximum Speed Law across the nation.  This set the maximum speed at 55 mph, where it remained until 1995.  Speed limits are now again under the authority of the individual states.

After the National Maximum Speed Limit was repealed, Kansas raised its general interstate speed limit to 70 mph.  A study found “no statistically significant increases in crash, fatal crash and fatality rates were noted during the after period on either rural or urban interstate highway networks. On the other hand, statistically significant increases in crash, fatal crash and fatality rates were observed on the 2-lane rural highway network.”.  Arkansas did not complete a study prior to raising the speed limits but would require a study to be able to lower the rates.  I now happily obey the higher speeds.

THOUGHTS:  I find Arkansas’ traffic study requirements revealing.  It is not needed unless you take away my right to speed.  The roads open to the higher speeds are some of the most beautiful in the state.  This is the southern tip of the Ozark Mountains and the deciduous trees have gorgeous displays of color every fall.  These are also the three population centers of the state, Little Rock, Fort Smith, and the corridor of cities in Northwest Arkansas.  Kansas tried to slow drivers down to force a meal or stay in one of the larger towns along the Interstate.  Arkansas instead is speeding drivers up to get to those same destinations.  In both respects, the underserved communities and small merchants that used to supply the lifeblood for America are being excluded.  Limited TV and cell service, closed groceries and gas stations, and an absence of medical care cause a growing rural abandonment.  Is it any wonder there is a belief no one cares?  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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