Ohio Senate approves 70 mph rural interstate speed

John Seewer, Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio's senators signed off on a proposal Wednesday that would increase the speed limit to 70 mph on rural interstate highways and set in motion Gov. John Kasich's plan to raise $1.5 billion for highway and bridge projects through Ohio Turnpike bonds.

The legislation would bump up the speed limit by 5 mph for both cars and trucks. The state's department would set the maximum speed limit for interstate freeway outerbelts in cities at 65 mph and on freeways in congested areas at 55 mph.

But before any of that happens, the Ohio House must either sign off on the transportation bill or take it to a committee to work out differences in the measure.

The House already approved the turnpike plan, but the Senate added a provision that guarantees 90 percent of the turnpike bond sale will go to projects in northern Ohio — specifically within 75 miles of the turnpike.

Many northern Ohio lawmakers wanted the guarantee, saying that it was only fair, since northern Ohioans pay a large share of the tolls on the 241-mile turnpike that connects the Toledo, Cleveland and Youngstown areas.

"We have made northern Ohio a priority," said Sen. Randy Gardner, a Republican from Bowling Green.

Sen. John Eklund, a Republican from Chardon, criticized the guarantee, saying it elevated regional interests over those of the state.

Lawmakers in the House, though, earlier rejected attempts for a similar guarantee. The Kasich administration has said it will deliver on that idea, but also said putting precise spending targets in the law would limit flexibility.

The Senate version of the bill also calls for freezing toll rates for local E-ZPass users through 2023 on trips of 30 miles or less. It does not cap tolls for other motorists.

The other main change passed in the bill by the Senate was the speed limit increase.

Raising it would bring the state in line with all but 16 other states that limit non-truck drivers in rural areas to 65 mph or less. Most states with higher limits allow non-truck drivers to go 70 mph or 75 mph, according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.