ESCANABA - Motorists traveling on U.S. 2 and 41 between Rapid River and Gladstone will notice a speed limit change from 55 mph to 65 mph next week, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).
The higher speed limit will be effective on Jan. 26, if weather permits signs to be installed along the five-mile stretch that day, said Dawn Gustafson, MDOT traffic and systems operations engineer at the Escanaba office.
Commercial truck speed will remain at 55 mph.
The speed limit on U.S. 2 and 41 between Rapid River and Gladstone will change from 55 mph to 65 mph next week, officials say. Commercial truck speed will remain at 55 mph. (Photo illustration by Mary Ann Heath)
The decision to increase the legal speed limit is the result of MDOT's continual efforts to make highways safe, Gustafson explained. Actual traffic speeds and road design are two factors considered.
A speed study in August showed that 85 percent of traffic on that section of highway was traveling at speeds greater than the posted 55 mph speed limit, she said.
In regards to road design, there is limited highway access with only three intersections along the route.
The two directions of traffic are separated by a median and there are no driveways, she added.
"Setting speed limits is a continual effort...," Gustafson said. Because of the high percentage of motorists traveling faster than the posted speed, increasing the speed limit actually makes the highway safer, she said.
With 85 percent of drivers going too fast - alongside others who are either following the speed limit or driving slower than the speed limit - this increases the chance for accidents because of the different speeds, she said.
A "more uniform traffic stream," with motorists driving at similar speeds, has proven to reduce the severity and frequency of crashes, Gustafson explained.
"Lower speed limits do not necessarily improve safety," she said. "...Matching the speed limit with the current speeds out there improves the safety of the highway."
The decision to up the speed limit was made by MDOT officials in conjunction with Michigan State Police, which conducted the speed study, Gustafson said.
"Whenever we set a speed limit, it's a joint effort between MDOT and Michigan State Police," she said. "MDOT will re-evaluate the change if there are any issues."
The highway between Rapid River and Gladstone will be the only route in the Upper Peninsula with a designated speed of 65 mph. Interstate 75 at the eastern end of the U.P. has a posted speed limit of 70 mph. All other highway speeds in the region are 55 mph or less.
MDOT and state police are obligated by law to set modified speed limits based on objective analysis of the roadway characteristics and speed studies, according to James Lake, communications representative from MDOT's Escanaba office. Motorists are reminded to follow the basic speed law and drive according to current road conditions, he added.
Delta County Sheriff Gary Ballweg said he's surprised the speed limit increase didn't happen sooner along that stretch of highway.
"We've known for quite a while that this is happening," he said, agreeing with the speed adjustment for motorists. He said the road is suitable for the higher speed limit. When the highway was constructed years ago, it was built for the maximum speed of 65 mph, he added.
For more information on MDOT projects, visit www.michigan.gov/drive.