By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
Motorists traveling west of Yukon along Interstate 40 are noticing they may now drive 5 mph faster.
The speed limit on I-40 west of Garth Brooks Boulevard has increased to 75 mph.
“We’re back to where we can drive – legally – what we’ve been driving,” District 3 Canadian County Commissioner Jack Stewart said this week.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) recently announced that nearly 400 miles of rural interstates in Oklahoma – including a large section of I-40 in western Oklahoma – would shift to a maximum 75 mph speed limit.
“Thanks to the Legislature for allowing ODOT to be able to raise the limit,” Commissioner Stewart said. “They’re doing this after (traffic) engineering studies showing where it’s safe.
“ODOT took action on what they were allowed to do, so I’m going to give them thanks.”
The Oklahoma Transportation Commission on Aug. 3 approved changing the maximum speed limit from 70 mph to 75 mph on 220 miles of I-40 and 179 miles of I-35.
The new speed limit on the I-40 corridor extends west of Yukon to the Texas Panhandle with two exceptions – at Weatherford/Clinton and Elk City.
Some 350 new speed limit signs are being installed along four major rural highway corridors in Oklahoma.
The new 75 mph speed limit along rural stretches of I-40 (east and west) and I-35 (north and south) result from passage of H.B. 1071, by State Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton.
The changes are being made outside the major metro areas of these routes.
The legislation prompted ODOT and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to look at raising speed limits outside of urban areas across the state.
“Rep. Pae, under House Bill 1071, really worked with us,” ODOT spokeswoman Terri Angier said. “It wasn’t a mandate, but we looked at the possibility of areas that could handle the increase.
“We did an extremely thorough job of looking at every angle and every factor, so we’d be comfortable with the five miles per hour additional speed.”
Safety factors evaluated were: Existing speed patterns, roadway geometry, collision history, traffic flows, and sight distance, and traffic accident history.
“We have done a lot of improvements on those roadways over the past 20 years, and that’s one of the factors that caused us to be more comfortable,” Angier said.
FOLLOW THE SPEED LIMIT
ODOT crews already have installed new 75 mph speed limit signs on I-40 west of the Garth Brooks Boulevard exit in Canadian County.
“They have signs all up and down I-40,” Stewart said. “Out here (in west Canadian County), it’s almost like 75 is a minimum speed, in reality.”
The speed limit remains at 70 mph east of Garth Brooks Boulevard toward Oklahoma City.
ODOT’s Angier encouraged motorists to abide by the higher speed limits.
“The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is already on record saying they will take a ‘no tolerance’ approach to the new speed,” she said. “We’re asking the public to work with us to not go over those speeds where it causes us to have to revert (to 70 mph) in any area.
“As long as everybody is going the speed limit and not thinking there’s some ‘cushion’ there, everybody will be in good shape.”
If state transportation officials determine the increased speed limits work well along the rural interstate corridors, they will study an increase in urban areas.
Meanwhile, many stretches of rural turnpike in Oklahoma have been raised to 80 mph – along Turner Turnpike, Muskogee Turnpike, Cherokee Turnpike, Indian Nation Turnpike, H.E. Bailey Turnpike, and Kickapoo Turnpike.
That decision was made July 28 by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority board.
“We appreciate that our legislators recognized safety concerns needed to be forefront in this process,” Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation Tim Gatz said. “Any increase in speed limits on interstates or highways must be carefully considered to ensure safety, and it’s not just a one-size-fits-all approach.
“Rep. Daniel Pae’s thoughtfulness and diligence helped the agencies develop a comprehensive plan for a statewide implementation.”
Rep. Pae expressed his appreciation to both ODOT and the OTA for evaluating this issue and performing the engineering studies to make sure these changes are done safely. He also cited OHP’s commitment to ensuring the new speed limits are property enforced.
“I’m very pleased that HB 1071 got the discussion started on modernizing Oklahoma’s rural interstate and turnpike speed limits to bring them into consistency with our neighboring states and existing patterns,” Pae said.