CHICAGO — Effective Jan. 1 Illinoisans will be able to drive 70 mph on interstate highways, including all of those in East Central Illinois, under legislation approved Monday by Gov. Pat Quinn.
The legislation, SB 2356, had strong support in both the House and Senate, passing the latter 41-6 and the former 85-30.
Among downstate lawmakers most affected by the change there was overwhelming support for the higher speed limit. Only one downstate senator and two downstate representatives opposed the higher limit. All East Central Illinois lawmakers supported it.
"Some constituents did contact me about this and I really do believe that our roads really are safe enough for 70 miles an hour," said Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana. "I tend to drive the speed limit but I know that when we travel in western states where the speed limit is 70 or 75, it doesn't seem to me that people are going 85 or 90.
"And one of the reasons I felt comfortable voting for this bill was that it eliminates the counties that have really heavy traffic. That's one of the big safety issues, that if there is really heavy traffic they can opt out."
The law permits Madison, St. Clair, Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties to opt out of the higher speed limits by adopting a local law setting a lower speed limit.
"This limited 5 miles-per-hour increase will bring Illinois' rural interstate speed limits in line with our neighbors and the majority of states across America, while preventing an increase in excessive speeding," Quinn said in a statement Monday.
Illinois joins 36 other states with speed limits of 70 mph or higher, including Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming, according to the governor's office.
Still, the governor waited until the last day to act on the bill that was sent to him on June 20, and as he often does, he did not hold a public ceremony to sign the measure.
Officials from both the Illinois State Police and the Illinois Department of Transportation had opposed the bill as it moved through the legislative process this spring. Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider had said the higher limits would threaten the state's progress on highway safety.
And many Chicago area lawmakers opposed the higher limit.
"From the top to the bottom of our state is 430 miles," Rep. Deborah Mell, D-Chicago, said during floor debate. "If we're driving 65 it take 6.6 hours to get there. If we're driving 70 it takes 6.1 It's not a huge saving and I think we've got to think if it's worth it balancing safety versus getting there just a few minutes faster."
But the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Red Bud, said studies in Colorado and California "have shown that fatalities and injury crashes are decreased in those states when the speed limit was raised from 65 to 70 because people used the interstates instead of two-lane highways. Those states have become safer with the raise in the speed limit."
And Quinn noted Monday that the bill he signed also lowers by 5 mph — from 31 mph to 26 mph — the threshold at which motorists can be charged with excessive speeding.