LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas opened a 45-day comment period Monday on whether highway officials should let motorists drive at higher speeds and within minutes had elicited confessions from drivers who wrote that, while they themselves speed, other drivers are going even faster.
Legislators this year approved raising interstate highway speeds to 75 mph and said motorists on other highways should be allowed to go faster, too, if engineering studies show it can be done safely. The Arkansas Department of Transportation had said previously it appeared higher speed limits would be appropriate but has now posted its ideas online and will take public comment through Dec. 13.
"With the speed limit being 60 I have people passing me when I'm driving about 64, looking like they're driving about 80," a motorist from Hoxie wrote. "If you raise the speed limit, people are going to think they need to drive 90 or faster. ... Please don't raise it."
Highway department spokesman Danny Straessle said motorists who note in their remarks that they exceed the speed limit won't be prosecuted for their comments: "I think they have to be observed by law enforcement for that to happen."
Eleven other states have raised their speed limits to 75 mph, while neighboring Texas and six other states have limits at 80 mph and up. Straessle said those 18 states generally have long stretches of straight, flat roads through unpopulated areas. Much of Arkansas is hilly, with plenty of truck traffic. More than half of the 40,000 vehicles that travel daily between Little Rock and Memphis, Tennessee, are 18-wheelers.
"If the limit is raised to 75, they will be going 85-90. ... I'm on the interstate 3-4 times a week and it feelis like I'm in a NASCAR RACE," another motorist wrote.
Straessle said a highway department study showed that 85 percent of the state's drivers travel at 71 mph or less in 70 mph zones. Traffic engineers recommend that speed limits be within 5 mph of the 85th percentile speed, according to the state agency.
If the state Highway Commission approves all elements of the plan, limits on urban interstates and rural multi-lane highways would climb to 65 mph in places, while other rural highways could see 60 mph limits.