The trouble with traffic

It’s about time for another mini-rant about too-high speed limits on North Dakota highways. The road fatality numbers were bad for last year, the highest in over 30 years.

I’ve done this every couple years or so, from 1997 to 2007 in the Bismarck Tribune and since 2009 in The Minot Daily News. And the main reason given for these limits, including by the NDDOT, has been that our traffic is light out here.

Well, of course, it no longer is.

I’ve compared North Dakota with other states that have lower than 75 MPH speed limits on their freeways. None of these states have 70 on any roads other than freeways. Some don’t even have 70 on their freeways; their limit is 65.

At 70, our four-lanes like Highway 83 are more dangerous than actual freeways which have wide shoulders, off and on ramps, no cross traffic, no blind knolls or hills, no U-turns and, in most states, no vehicles (including combines) below 40 MPH. Cross traffic, blind knolls, U-turns and combines, we have them all on 83.

We even have 70 on four-lanes for short distances like between here and the base, and between Buchanan and Jamestown. What good purpose does this serve? How much time does it save?

As I have proposed before, we need to lower the speed limits, especially now that we have heavier traffic and those increasingly complicated and distracting hand-held communication devices.

High speeds and texting is a dangerous combination.

Lower speed limits, particularly at dangerous intersections like at South Prairie School, are needed. After citizen input, we eventually did lower them at Max and at Miniot Air Force Base’s main gate.

But an overall lowering is indicated. Cut the freeways back to 70, the four-lanes back to 65, and the two-lanes to 60 or even lower depending on how wide the road and whether there are shoulders. Certain long stretches of two-lanes with wide shoulders could stay at 65.

There, rant over, I feel better. You probably don’t. But if anything comes of this and other similar proposals, we’ll all be a bit safer.

(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News.)