Editorial: Governor needs to OK bill to up speed limit

2013-08-13T06:00:00Z Editorial: Governor needs to OK bill to up speed limit pantagraph.com
August 13, 2013 6:00 am

Gov. Pat Quinn said last week he is still reviewing legislation that would raise the speed limit on the state’s rural interstates from 65 to 70 miles per hour.

It’s fine that the governor wants to complete his review, but once that’s done, he should sign the bill, taking a cue from the House and Senate that overwhelmingly approved the measure with veto-proof margins in both chambers. Quinn also should consider common sense and studies that show higher speed limits on rural interstates have little impact on safety or traffic speed.

Illinois is one of 16 states with a maximum 65 mph limit. The state is surrounded by states with a 70 mph limit or higher. The legislation would only affect the speed limit on what are known as “rural interstates.” The interstate speed limits within cities would not be increased. The speed limits on other rural roads also would not be affected.

There are two common assumptions: that speed limits actually regulate the speed at which drivers travel and that higher speed limits are inherently more dangerous. A lot of research states that simply isn’t true.

For example, the German Autobahn is the only interstate-like highway in a major nation where no speed limit is posted. Undoubtedly, there are some motorists who drive fast on the autobahn. But the average speed is a fairly reasonable 80 mph.

Other studies have shown that increasing or decreasing the speed limit has little to no effect on the speed drivers actually drive. Most drivers find a speed they consider safe and comfortable and drive at that speed, no matter the speed limit.

It’s also questionable whether higher speed limits result in more accidents. In the decade after the federal government ended the 55 mph speed limit and many states increased the speed limit to 65 mph or higher, the number of fatal accidents actually dropped slightly.

States that have since increased the speed limits on their rural interstates often have had the same experience. Some argue the higher speed limits are safer because it aids in traffic flow. There also is some evidence that suggests slow drivers — those driving 10 mph or more slowly than the rest of the traffic — are the most likely to be involved in an accident.

The conclusion is that taken in total, it appears higher speed limits result in little if any increase in accidents. It’s also important to keep in mind that accidents on rural interstates make up a tiny fraction of the total number of accidents.

The Illinois State Police and the state’s transportation agency have both opposed the legislation. Transportation officials are rightfully concerned about the cost of replacing the speed limit signs and the Illinois State Police appear opposed to writing fewer needless speeding tickets.

The 65 mph speed limit on rural interstates is a frustration for motorists and those who make a living delivering goods. It’s time Illinois caught up with its neighbors and increased this limit to a more reasonable 70 mph.

Quinn should sign Senate Bill 2356.

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(24) Comments

  1. Schleswig-Holstein
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    Schleswig-Holstein - August 18, 2013 3:01 pm
    For those who wish to go 110 MPH.
  2. Steve Doner
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    Steve Doner - August 18, 2013 1:56 pm
    Charts Supporting Higher Speed Limits:

    The first chart is to establish context on the speed limit debate. Nearly 90% of all traffic fatalities occur on non-interstates. Rural and urban interstate fatalities are each only about 6% of the total for 2011. Data shown is for 2011 but the proportions have been similar for each of the past 5 years. The 2nd chart illustrates that traffic flowing below the average pace of traffic is at the greatest risk. Too-low limits drive law abiding citizens into the highest risk group. The 3rd chart shows that despite claims to the contrary, fatalities have dropped over time regardless of rising and falling speed limits. The 4th chart goes to the extreme and shows that even in Germany, where there is no speed limit, fatalities have fallen as average speeds have gone up over time. The common fear of higher speed limits is much like the fear of flying that many people feel. This is another example where the common intuitive feeling that higher speeds increase danger is simply not supported by the facts.

  3. Steve Doner
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    Steve Doner - August 18, 2013 1:55 pm
    Here is a summary version of my case for higher interstate speed limits. Please feel free to share.

    1. Nearly 90% of fatalities occur on secondary roads. Only about 6% of fatalities occur on rural interstates plus another 7% on urban interstates nationwide. Increased speed limits would not apply to the roads where 87% to 94% of fatalities occur (depending on whether urban interstates are included).
    2. Higher speed limits on interstates helps draw traffic away from secondary highways which are more dangerous, thus increasing overall road safety.
    3. For decades, traffic engineers have promoted establishment of speed limits based on 85th percentile speeds – the maximum speed at which 85% of motorists travel when unencumbered by traffic or enforcement. Well informed state police and transportation departments also advocate this approach.
    4. Speed limits have very little impact on the pace of faster traffic – most drivers, including the police, ignore under-posted limits.
    5. Higher interstate speed limits improve safety by reducing speed variance, road rage and weaving.
    6. Under-posted speed limits breed disrespect for all laws, especially traffic laws. This leads to speeding in construction zones and on secondary roads.
    7. Under-posted speed limits leave drivers bored, unengaged and distracted. Since driving does not demand their full attention, drivers talk on the phone and even text while driving…because they can. Do you think drivers text on the German autobahn? Not likely.
    8. With a very few exceptions, even with increased speed limits our interstates are still posted at or below the limits which were in place in 1970 (pre-55). Since then the handling capability and safety equipment on vehicles has improved dramatically such that limits of 80 to 85 should be the norm (as they are in many other parts of the industrialized world).
    9. The so-called safety advocates (insurers and others who make money from ticketing) tend to cite studies which count the raw number of fatalities rather than looking at the actual rate per mile driven. The raw number of fatalities fell under the 55 mph speed limit fell primarily because people were driving less (because of gas prices). The actual fatality rate has fallen steadily for nearly 100 years during times of both rising and falling speed limits.
    10. Higher limits reduce congestion and may actually save fuel by allowing drivers to keep a steadier pace.

    Steve Doner
    Former Illinois State Chapter Coordinator
    National Motorists Association
  4. Steve Doner
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    Steve Doner - August 18, 2013 1:55 pm
    Making a mockery of the data is what the insurance industry does best. Perhaps you would be a good spokesman for State Farm or Allstate or AAA.
  5. Martin
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    Martin - August 16, 2013 5:43 am
    Some of these arguments caused me to form the following opinion. 1) that if the conditions are right on a rural highway then it would be safer to race on a 4 lane, and result in fewer accidents acording to all this expert testimony, then having youth race anyway on a county road. 2) That speed saves lives. 3) that those suspended or revokesd because of too many spreeding tickets should be allowed to drive again under a general amnesty because they would actually make the roads safer as a pace setter. 4) every 5 years or so will see a study that claims we should raise the speed limit by 5 again because people exceed it anyway and it would be safer still.
  6. miniman
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    miniman - August 15, 2013 2:07 pm
    In addition to the decline in drunk driving, I also wonder how the improvement in the safety of modern cars influences the decline in fatal car crashes. Cars are today just plain built better, handle better, stop better, and things like air bags prevent a lot of deaths that happened in the past..
  7. Steve Doner
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    Steve Doner - August 14, 2013 10:07 pm
    I find it amusing and ironic that after so many years of uninformed "speed kills" hysteria the data now overwhelmingly supports higher interstate limits (or even no limits) as being safer and the only objection than anyone can conjure up is to complain about the cost of slapping on some decals.
  8. Steve Doner
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    Steve Doner - August 14, 2013 9:59 pm
    Good points duke and it will make a huge difference in Chicago where folks who are trying to driver 55-ish become hazardous obstructions. Changing the signs will save some lives too.
  9. Steve Doner
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    Steve Doner - August 14, 2013 9:52 pm
    The 55 limit which still exists in the Chicago area is a relic from 40 years ago which tragically teaches young people to disregard the law. I have had to teach my kids who are teen drivers to drive 10-15 over the limit on metro Chicago expressways. It's a shame they have to choose between obeying the law and being safe. The limit should be 70 in Chicago and 80 in the rural areas (but 70 would be a good start).


  10. Steve Doner
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    Steve Doner - August 14, 2013 9:46 pm
    Increased speed limit not a threat to public safety
    Sun, 05/26/2013 - 11:00am
    By Dan Metz
    A higher speed limit on interstate highways is a threat to public safety, says Kevin J. Martin, speaking for the Illinois Insurance Association. Speaking as an accident reconstructionist with 43 years of experience, more than 80 published scientific papers, and having investigated more than 1,200 road accidents and 150 racing accidents, that statement is pure nonsense.
    Fact: There are literally hundreds of scientific research papers that show that, absent massive police visibility and presence, drivers will travel at whatever speed they feel is comfortable for conditions, regardless of the posted speed limit. For rural interstate highways in Illinois, that speed is currently about 77 mph — coincidentally, the exact same average speed as on the unlimited-speed sections of the German autobahnen.
    Fact: The average death rate from automobile accidents on rural U.S. interstate highway systems is about 0.82 deaths per 100,000,000 miles traveled — coincidentally, the exact same death rate as on the unlimited-speed sections of the German autobahnen.
    Fact: Attributing a traffic fatality to "speeding" relies mainly on the judgment of the police officers who investigated the accidents, essentially none of whom has any training or education in scientific accident reconstruction, and therefore no factual basis for attributing a fatality to "speeding."
    Fact: At one time, speed limits were set according to the 85th percentile rule: the limit was determined by the speed of the fastest 15 percent of traffic. Now, limits are set in a completely arbitrary fashion on interstate highways. Except for school zones and certain other special circumstances, the 85th percentile rule is a much more rational way to determine appropriate speed limits.
    Fact: The hated 55 mph interstate speed limit, now thankfully discarded, probably generated more disrespect for the rule of law than prohibition, drugs usage and nearly every other factor combined. It was uniformly ignored and even laughed at by police officers, who had monthly ticket quotas to fulfill, and thus a vested interest in issuing citations.
    Fact: Careful scientific studies indicate than 50-60 percent of all radar-based speeding tickets are erroneously issued, and could not withstand even a cursory legal defense if put forth by an expert scientifically trained in the use of radar for speed measurement. Radar is the predominant method of determining vehicle speed for purposes of ticket issuance.
    Fact: Many municipalities and other governmental bodies rely heavily on fines issued for speeding for a significant portion of their yearly budget. How else to explain the comical "driving school," in which a person who supposedly broke the law is permitted to pay a higher fine in return for a blanket reduction of driver license points?
    Fact: The average speeding ticket costs a driver more than $3,000 in increased insurance premiums over a multi-year period. Insurance premiums have universally been based on the number of citations issued to an individual, but there is only very loose correlation between speeding citations issued and individual accident history.
    The insurance industry nationwide has made multibillion-dollar profits by selling the idea that "speed kills" to citizens, police officers and legislatures. Speed inappropriate for conditions is certainly a danger; 70 mph on a rural interstate highway is, if anything, actually far too low for a reasonable speed limit. The Eisenhower interstate highway system was designed for 85 mph travel in 1950s-era cars. For a modern car, 70 mph is not only safe, but really just loping along.
    Everyone involved in accident reconstruction already knows how to reduce the death toll on the highways of the U.S.: rigorous enforcement and prosecution of driving-while-impaired laws. DUI is routinely plea-bargained away and often even ignored. Drivers receive multiple DUI tickets and continue to drive anyway. Drivers even drive without valid licenses and instead of incarceration are given only a slap on the wrist and some "community service." In many other countries, DWI laws are far more rigorously enforced, with predictable results: reduction in accidents and deaths.
    Graduated driver's licenses, a BAC limit of 0.05 and rigorous prosecution of DWI would save more lives in one week than keeping the Illinois interstate speed limit at 65 mph will save in a year. The howls from the insurance industry reflect not scientific fact but a potential loss of massive profits.
    Dan Metz is a retired UI professor. He has reconstructed over 1,200 road accidents and 150 race accidents in a 43-year consulting career.
  11. Steve Doner
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    Steve Doner - August 14, 2013 9:45 pm
    I agree with the author but would like to add my remarks in response to some of the comments...

    With several states increasing speed limits recently, there has predictably been a fair amount of discussion and debate on the topic, much of it laced with uninformed claims and silly clichés like “speed kills”. Like the lies of a politician, most of these claims contain just enough truth, logic or emotional appeal to fool many people into listening.

    There are bigger issues to tackle in this world, but this is one of the few laws that touch the life of nearly every citizen every day. Most of us will never be charged with breaking a law, except on the road. We complain about various forms of government ineptitude, but we actually feel it on a daily basis when we get in our cars and drive on roads with under-posted speed limits. What a shame and what a great opportunity for politicians to get some easy points with citizens by simply requiring that speed limits be based on sound traffic engineering principles as they once were before the much-hated 55 limit came along forty or so years ago.

    Studies have long shown that speed limits have little effect on how fast people actually drive on open roads and any traffic engineer, and many state police departments, will explain that 85th percentile speeds are the proper way to set limits. This is the maximum speed at which 85% of traffic actually flows when unencumbered. A quick internet search will show that this is widely accepted as the best way to set speed limits. The National Motorists Association, the Michigan State Police and the Louisiana State Police are among those that pop up in a web search.

    So if people drive fast anyway, why waste money changing the signs? Good question, but there are some important reasons. Artificially low limits do not slow down the faster traffic but do cause several types of dysfunction which make the roads more dangerous, for example:

    • Speed Variance: slower traffic will tend to flow at or near the posted limit. When limits are too low, the speed differential between the fastest and slowest traffic increases. This is a leading cause of road rage, particularly when slower traffic does not keep right and yield to faster traffic.
    • Distracted Drivers: people multi-task when driving does not demand their full attention. Dumbed down limits tend to increase distracting activities further contributing to impaired drivers and road rage as slower traffic lumbers along in the passing lane chit-chatting on the phone, too busy to notice someone wants to pass.
    • Increased Use of Less-Safe Roads: when a shorter or cheaper two-lane route carries the same speed limit as an interstate highway fatalities can go up simply because people are not motivate to use the safer roads which sometimes carry tolls and are often less direct (but faster if speed limits allow it).
    • Punitive Speeding Penalties: some states, like Georgia and Illinois, have instituted so-called "super-speeder” laws. For going 30 over the limit a person can go to prison in Illinois. Most of metro Chicago is still posted at 55, so 30 over the limit is not unusual when the roads are clear. Most reasonable people would agree that 85 is not such an unreasonable speed, in modern cars in clear daytime weather, that offenders should go to jail. These same roads were posted at 65 or 70 forty years ago when cars were junk wagons compared to modern vehicles with anti-lock brakes, stability control, etc. Before 55, Nevada and Montana had no daytime speed limit at all.
    • Loss of Respect for All Traffic Laws: when limits are set at 55/65 on interstates, the government inadvertently teaches its citizenry that it is clueless about establishing proper traffic laws. This then leads drivers to disregard limits on roadways where 55/65 may be an appropriate speed…including construction zones, etc.
    • Waste of Resources on Tickets and Processing: in a busy world and an age of runaway government costs why bother will all the ticketing and processing costs unless it is necessary to make the roads safe (and it’s not).

    So why do we still have crazy-low speed limits on our interstates nearly 20 years after the national speed limit was finally lifted? Two big reasons:

    • Insurers: insurance companies like low speed limits which trigger more violations. The insurance surcharges (for points on license) are the primary reason that P&C insurance companies push to keep limits low – it enables them to charge higher rates without higher risk – it’s all profit. This is true of AAA as well. AAA is an insurance company pretending to be a motor club and is perhaps the motoring public’s most formidable foe.
    • Bureaucracy: during the 55 years states lost federal highway funds if they did not enforce the law that even police hated and laughed at. As a result, more troopers were hired and infrastructure was added to process all the tickets. Now, we have a bloated bureaucracy trying to preserve itself and which gladly teams up with the insurance lobby to harass and oppress motorists.

    Some have cited the fact that fatalities dropped whehttp://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspxn limits were reduced from 75 to 55 forty or so years ago. While true, they never seem to mention the fact that fatalities continued to steadily drop when limits started going back up. States which have increased limits, by and large, have experienced declines in fatality rates because of reduced speed variance and road rage as well as diversion of traffic onto safer (and faster) roads. The fatality rate even decreased in Montana which for some years had no daytime limit following the end of the 55mph national speed limit in 1995.

    One last point should not be overlooked - traffic congestion increases when speeds are lower. Heavy traffic can only move as fast as the slowest car and the slowest car will be going the speed limit. Like water through a hose, you can increase the flow rate by using a bigger hose or by increasing the flow rate. Slow down the flow of the main line and all the feeders back up. Lower limits mean more gridlock. Higher limits allow us to get more efficiency out of our existing infrastructure reducing the need to widen roads.

    Artificially low limits have nothing to do with safety. They are about politics and enrichment of insurers. Please tell the elected representatives that you want limits to be set based on the 85th percentile rule, especially on interstate highways.

    Steve Doner
    Former Illinois State Chapter Coordinator
    National Motorists Association
  12. Steve Doner
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    Steve Doner - August 14, 2013 9:43 pm
    It's rather surprising to see such a good article in Bloomington, home of the largest auto insurer in the nation. Some of the comments are more like what I would have expected. The complaint about the cost of putting decals on the signs is a nickel-dime issue which ignores the benefits which would far outweigh the small cost. Its not just a 5 mph increase we are talking about. In metro Chicago this presents an opportunity to get rid of the ridiculous 55 limit.
  13. Steve Doner
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    Steve Doner - August 14, 2013 9:18 pm
    Here are some links which overwhelmingly support higher limits:

  14. catlbyer16
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    catlbyer16 - August 14, 2013 10:58 am
    Fair Warning!!!! I will NOT be changing anything in how fast I drive on the Interstate Systems. I discovered, while driving a semi-truck for awhile, that just below the then 65 mph speed limit for cars, I very seldom had anyone right in front of my tuck. When I arrived at my destination, I was very alert and not tired. Now as i drive for myself and haul antiques around, I use the same knowledge. I put my unit on cruse at about 68-69 mph. I get the same results as before. No one right in front of me and totally relaxed upon arrivals. So if the peed limit goes up to 70, for me, no change. Oh and about police. When I see them I never flinch or hit the brakes. As I like to say, 'I don't fight the traffic for now I am the traffic.' See you down the road.
  15. aces
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    aces - August 14, 2013 8:49 am
    Good idea maybe, but what about the costs? Politicians just keep passing good ideas without any responsibility to the cost of such measures. We are broke and must delay things like this until we get our finances in order!!
  16. DukeGanote
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    DukeGanote - August 13, 2013 6:55 pm
    First, the INDISPUTABLE facts, then my opinion. FACTS: In 2011, Illinois' rural interstates had 36 deaths at a rate of 0.40 per 100-million-miles. That's FOUR (4) percent of Illinois' 918 traffic deaths, with a rate FAR FAR lower than the 1.95 to 3.67 rates on other rural roads.

    Why are interstates so much safer? Simple physics! Crashes commonly occur with crossing traffic at intersections, head-on traffic in adjacent lanes, and roadside hazards like trees, telephone poles and sharp curves. Eliminating common causes of crashes and delays DRAMATICALLY improves travel times, fuel efficiency, and safety. That's why interstates are built.

    Speed limits unacceptable to the majority of citizen-motorists accept make for easy traffic citations and "high visibility" enforcement. (Maybe you're one of those who has bought into the idea that strict Soviet style enforcement is the salvation of mankind--- but it simply can't impact safety much since rural interstates = 4% of traffic deaths). There are far deadly roads that really need attention.

    70-mph may not impact your travel time from Aurora to Springfield much, but it "adds up" for long distance travelers going state-to-state. Illinoisans get to enjoy 70-mph or better speeds on your long trips, so it makes sense for Gov Quinn to return the favor by signing the bill.
  17. NormalNews
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    NormalNews - August 13, 2013 4:34 pm
    Prisoners doing union work? Ain't going to happen. But the tape would work... in any other state than this one!
  18. cdequaker
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    cdequaker - August 13, 2013 2:33 pm
    How about we just ENFORCE the speed limit, whatever it is? Why even have one when most drivers do not adhere to it and very few are held accountable when they don't. Why not make them real, not just meaningless “pretend” signs. Ever go 20 mph in a school zone? Drivers will give you dirty looks and pass you like you don’t know what you’re doing. Drive 30 mph in the city? Nobody else does. 65 mph on the highway. What a joke! Come on, if we just enforce the speed limit and give out tickets like candy, two things would happen. First, we would reduce traffic accidents. Second, the state would take in a large amount of much needed revenue. What a great source of untapped $$$ for a state that could really use it.
  19. MacDaddy
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    MacDaddy - August 13, 2013 10:45 am
    Really??? I thought the fix was to just put the tape numbers over the old ones.... Not really buying anything new here.... But I guess that is too easy and common sense for some to grasp... Have some of the prison details out there doing this, shorten their time, for agreeeing to do this, then it is a win/win for the state.
  20. Reasonable
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    Reasonable - August 13, 2013 9:16 am
    I agree with the fiscal issue. We cannot afford to change signs.
  21. rrbpontiac
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    rrbpontiac - August 13, 2013 8:08 am
    Numbers can be misleading without more evidence, as well. The writer talks about traffic deaths going down when the speed limit was increased to 65...if the decade they are referring to happens to be the same time period that DUI arrests and deaths were significantly reduced, then the speed limit may not have caused the decrease...

    If we are going to argue money as the reason not to do this - let's go all the way. We should leave the speed limit alone, and write a lot more tickets. Those who choose to speed can help provide extra funds to offset the cost of state police, etc. Another benefit - driving slower = better gas mileage. So by leaving the speed limit down - everyone who obeys it saves a little money that way as well...
  22. fe_city99
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    fe_city99 - August 13, 2013 8:05 am
    More fatal instead of just kinda fatal? Is that like being kinda pregnant?

    Not sure what all the fuss is about, people disregard the signs anyway and they only enforce the limit on the worst offenders.

    I support this so that the entire flow of traffic moves faster. Noting like ma and pa kettle out in the passing lane going 66 around a semi and the traffic is backing several cars behind them. At least the delay would now be at 71 instead of 66.
  23. Martin
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    Martin - August 13, 2013 7:46 am
    With cuts everywhere I would agree we can't afford to change the signs, and if we you do, it will only demonstrate that we are not serious about spending cuts and shared sacrifice. NOT AT THIS TIME. Driving distractions and entertainment systems in car are increasing. Consider this link http://youtu.be/s79PHIlcLM8 This is what people are starting to do in cars right now. Until cars can drive themselves we need speed limits. The Editorial did not address key other evidence, that the creeping up of speeds is dangerous. One the Studies considered by the legislature was that people drive over the speed limit by 5-10 regardless of the limit. So if the speed limit is raised they will drive over that too, and we might just keep increasing speed limits. The fact is, that when there is an accident it tends to be more fatal. The editorial board failed to research this subject independantly. The number of serious injuries spiked since the raising of the limits from 55 even on "rural highways and interstates" . Finally, The semi traffic will also increase and now we will have sleepy driver going even faster. Bad call and no work on the part of the Editorial Board.
  24. Yepppppp
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    Yepppppp - August 13, 2013 7:09 am
    WRONG. The Governor should VETO this bill. The State of Illinois is BROKE, BROKE, BROKE!!! Raising the speed limit means spending money to change all the signs. VETO the bill. The Governor should get up and say, "We have no money, we have no pension reform, we can't spend the money to do things like this."
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