A bill that would raise the speed limit on Iowa’s Interstates has cleared its first hurdle at the statehouse. The House Transportation Committee has voted 13-to-eight to raise the speed limit on four-lane, divided highways to 70 miles an hour. Representative David Tjepkes (JEP’-keez), a republican from Gowrie, is a retired state trooper who says the Interstates are engineered for higher speeds — and he points to a study that found traffic death rates decreased when most states raised the speed limit from 55 to 65. Raising the speed limit on the Interstate encouraged drivers to use the Interstates rather than the two-lane roads, which Tjepkes says are more dangerous than four-lane, divided highways. He says if you examine the amount of vehicle miles driven, Interstates are twice as safe as other roads. Tjepkes says traffic monitors show most vehicles are already driving above the posted 65-mile-an-hour limit on the Interstates. Tjepkes says the average speed on the Interstates is 71. “To some degree, the motoring public has already somewhat expressed their comfort…level,” Tjepkes says. The bill would also raise speeding fines and court costs. Representative Bruce Hunter, a democrat from Des Moines, says that just means Iowa’s courts will be financed with “blood money.” He says traffic deaths went up when neighboring states increased their Interstate speed limits to 70. “Speed kills,” Hunter says, “I don’t think we should be passing any law in this state that we know is going to increase fatalities.” He disputes Tjepkes assertion that the highways are designed for higher speeds. “With the demographics of Iowa right now, I don’t the driving public is very well engineered to go to those higher speeds,” Hunter says. Representative Polly Butka (BOOK’-tuh), a democrat from Clinton, opposed the bill, too. Butka says people are driving a lot faster than 70 on Interstate-80, and she rarely sees a state trooper pull anyone over. “If we don’t have the troopers now to do the enforcement, how are they going to pick up the people to get more fines,” Butka says. “I know this is kind of a circular questions, but to me, I can’t see how it matches.” Butka and Hunter were outnumbered in committee but the bill still has to be approved by the full House and Senate before it reaches Governor Vilsack. And Vilsack isn’t wild about raising the speed limit, either. “I do want to express concerns about this,” Vilsack says. “I’m willing to work with legislators on a variety of issues and I don’t want to shut the door on any particular proposal at this point ’cause I think it’s too early.” But Vilsack says he will “caution” legislators about the consequences of raising the speed limit. Vilsack says it’s “fairly clear” there’ll be more fatalities and injuries on the highways if the speed limit is raised to 70. He says insurance rates will also go up, too. “If there is some way to deal with those two issues, maybe there is a way to get to a consensus,” Vilsack says.
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