BOISE – Idaho’s new 80 mph speed limit law specifically requires that the state Transportation Board approve any boosts under the new law, but the board delegated the matter to its staff and hadn’t planned to review the changes.
The board is changing course after concerns raised by the public when the state announced that an array of speed limits would increase to 80 mph in southern Idaho on July 1 and began to study increases on North Idaho routes.
The board will review the proposed higher speeds in southern Idaho at its regular meeting today in Coeur d’Alene.
“The board delegates a lot of things,” ITD Board Chairman Jerry Whitehead said, “However, we’re going to have a review of that whole thing” at the board meeting.
Board members and department officials say they don’t think they violated the new law.
“I guess it might be kind of a gray area,” said Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, author of the new law signed in March, said he intended the board’s review to allow for public input. But Whitehead says he sees little need for public input because the department’s speed studies show how fast drivers are traveling on the routes.
“If the traffic is already going 80 mph … then it’s probably a no-brainer,” Whitehead said. Davis said he’s not criticizing the department; he didn’t realize the board had delegated speed limit setting to staff.
“I honestly thought that I was going to get two good sets of eyes that would look at the issue: skilled professionals, and then, as well, the board,” Davis said. “And so that’s the reason the bill is written the way that it is.”
Board members didn’t want to be bothered with every decision about limits for certain stretches of road, said Blake Rindlisbacher, ITD’s head of engineering services. “They’ve said, ‘We want you to take care of that.’ ”
Whitehead said the board also will consider today if the board should review other possible speed limit increase proposals – including on Interstate 90 in North Idaho, from the current 70 mph to 75 from Stateline to Coeur d’Alene, and from 65 mph to 70 from roughly Kellogg to Wallace.
Davis said when he argued for the speed limit increases in the Legislature, he assured lawmakers that the bill allowed for public input because of the board review.
“I believed that we had put together a path where stakeholders could give their input,” he said. “I told them I thought we had that in the bill. I thought we had it there.”