Lower speed limit not likely to pass



Harris News Service

TOPEKA -- The maximum speed limit on highways in Kansas would be dropped from 70 to 65 mph under a proposal set to receive further consideration from a state energy panel.

The Kansas Energy Council gave a preliminary nod Wednesday to reducing the state's speed limit as a way of encouraging more energy-efficient driving and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The decrease, which would require a change in state law, appears to be a long way from becoming reality. But supporters said they wanted to continue to debate the proposal.

"I guess I'm going to vote for this just as a way of advancing the public discussion," said Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, the council's co-chairman. "Gas has never been $4 a gallon. We're in a different environment."

However, state Sen. Janis Lee, D-Kensington, said the change stood no chance of making it through the Kansas Legislature.

"There's no way, shape or form this is going pass," said Lee, a member of the panel.

Speed limit one of many plans

Lowering the maximum speed limit was just one of several proposals brought before the panel as a way of helping Kansas curb man-made greenhouse gas emissions, which have been tied by scientists to global warming.

The 35-member council, created by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2004 to study state energy policy, plans to take comments on its proposals from Sept. 8 through Oct. 10.

Co-chairman Ken Frahm said the group also plans at least two meetings where the public will be able to speak before the council finalizes its recommendations later this year.

Another recommendation endorsed by the panel would increase the fines for speeding by 50 percent. The council also is discussing reducing the so-called "10-mile exemption" on highways to 5 mph.

Under the present exemption, drivers can be ticketed for driving less than 10 mph over the speed limit, but such infractions wouldn't be counted as moving violations on their driving records.

Reducing the exemption would mean that drivers ticketed for driving more than 5 mph above the speed limit would face moving violations that could increase their auto insurance rates.

Panel members said that getting drivers to slow down even a little bit would make a difference in fuel efficiency and the amount of greenhouse gases being generated.

Reducing heat-trapping gases

Reducing driving speed from 70 mph to 65 mph is expected to increase fuel economy by 7 to 23 percent while also reducing carbon dioxide emissions and other heat-trapping gases, according to the council.

Secretary of Transportation Deb Miller said the average speed on Kansas highways posted with 70 mph limits is 78 mph. The average speed on rural roads posted with 65 mph limits is 75 mph, she said.

Most of the highways that would be affected by the 5 mph change would be interstate highways and heavily traveled federal or state highways, she said.

A better mousetrap

Michael J. Volker, an energy economist for Midwest Energy in Hays, said people living in the western part of the state would be disproportionately hurt by a decrease in the speed limit.

He said he'd prefer to see the council push for changes that would result in more fuel-efficient vehicles being out on the roads, such as requiring automakers to sell more gas-conserving models.

"We'd much rather see us build a better mousetrap rather than lower our standard of living by making us spend more time on the road."

We could do it now

However, Bruce Snead of Manhattan, who led the council committee studying ways to reduce greenhouse gases, said those changes would take time.

"It's something that can happen now," Snead said of the speed-limit reduction.

Wednesday's discussion came at the same time that Kansas drivers appear to be scaling back their driving in response to higher gasoline prices.

Travel on Kansas roads dropped by 6.7 percent in June compared to the amount of miles driven in that same month a year ago, the Federal Highway Administration announced Wednesday.