- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Virginia traffic engineers are proposing increasing speed limits to 65 mph on several Washington-area highways by July 1 to encourage commuters to carpool.
Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) spokeswoman Tamara Neale said engineers in the agencys Northern Virginia district have been studying the feasibility of increasing the speed limits of three heavily traveled sections of road. They include the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes of:
Interstate 95 from the Springfield to Dumfries exits.
Interstate 395, except for the area around the Pentagon.
Interstate 66 from Route 50 in Fairfax County to Route 234 in Manassas.
"Its to get traffic moving more efficiently," Mrs. Neale said. "[It is] to get people to use the HOV lanes and reduce congestion in Northern Virginia."
HOV restrictions require more than one occupant in vehicles using the HOV lanes during rush hours. The speed limit increase will remain in effect 24 hours a day on the designated HOV lanes.
I-395 and I-95 both have two lanes dedicated as HOV, but I-66s lanes are available to car pools only during rush hours on the inner part of the Capital Beltway. Outside the Beltway, where the speed limit increase would be felt the most, the far-left lane is reserved for HOV traffic during the morning and evening rush hours.
The VDOT speed-limit study has been under way statewide since March, when Gov. James S. Gilmore III signed into law a bill that allowed the state to raise the speed limit to 65 mph on interstates, particularly for HOV lanes.
The first wave of speed-limit changes, including the I-395 and I-95 routes, could go into effect on the day the law does, July 1, if VDOT Commissioner Charles D. "Chip" Nottingham approves the changes, Mrs. Neale said.
Mrs. Neale said engineers are still looking at the I-66 speed-limit changes, adding that those changes could come later this summer if Mr. Nottingham approves them.
Sources close to the situation say they expect Mr. Nottingham to approve the changes.
Across the state, other VDOT traffic engineers are recommending that many non-HOV stretches of interstate have their speed limits increased.
Engineers and planners want to make sure that raising the speed limit can be done safely, Mrs. Neale said. "They look at traffic volume and accident rates," she said, as well as "the geography of the road, driving patterns and behaviors."
Delegate David B. Albo, the Fairfax Republican who sponsored the speed-limit change bill, said "it was fine by him" that VDOT is quickly changing the limits. The law gives the state "flexibility" to modify the 55 mph speed limit where it sees fit and corrects an error in the states old speeding law, he said.
"We quietly fixed a humongous loophole in the speeding code," Mr. Albo said.
That "loophole" occurred when Virginia did not change its speeding laws to match the federal law, which changed in 1995 to allow states to increase speed limits, he said.
Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison, Prince William Republican, said he supports any change that eases gridlock but keeps roads safe.
"If you use a strong measure of common sense, you can make it a safe speed limit for cars and trucks," Mr. Rollison said of the 65 mph limit. "You want the motorists to take the speed limit seriously."
The changes will allow VDOT to maintain the right mix of speed limits, he said, adding that rural areas need higher speed limits than urban areas. "You have to be very careful about raising the speed in urban areas with heavy traffic congestion," Mr. Rollison said.
The Virginia State Police support the impending changes as well, spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said.
"The state police and VDOT have been looking for ways to improve traffic flow in Northern Virginia. Hopefully, this could be a step to encourage motorists to use HOV lanes," Mrs. Caldwell said. "For each carpooler, it takes another car off the road."
Justin McNaull, a spokesman for AAAs Mid-Atlantic region, said his organization wants the changes, which he said need to be implemented safely so that drivers dont see the increase as a reason to go another 10 miles per hour over the 65 mph speed limit.
"Its a recognition that the 55 mph speed limit isnt realistic in some of these areas," Mr. McNaull said, adding that an increased speed limit is a "reward" for HOV users.


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