CLEVELAND - Highway speed limits could change based on weather and traffic conditions under a new proposal by the Ohio Department of Transportation.
In its latest budget proposal, ODOT is seeking the power to set variable speed limits. Digital signs would allow it to change speed limits due to reduced visibility or upcoming traffic backups.
“We feel that variable speed limits could be very helpful in keeping the flow of traffic moving safely,” ODOT District 12 spokesperson Amanda McFarland said. “If we can get people to already be driving that reduced speed limit when they hit that white out condition, then maybe there will be less of a knee jerk reaction to slam on your brakes or come to an abrupt stop because you're unable to see.”
It’s been done in other states, but not Ohio. Right now, ODOT only has authority to change speed limits during certain hours in school or work zones.
“If you're going too fast in inclement weather, it's going to be harder to stop, it’s going to take you a longer distance to stop because of snow or ice on the roadway,” said OSHP Chardon Post Commander Lt. Charles Gullett. “When it's bad weather, when it's snowing, you don't have to go as fast as the speed limit that's posted.”
Gullett said it could remind drivers to slow down in problem spots, like I-90 in Lake County heavy snow has led to several major pileups in the area, prompting ODOT last month to lower the speed limit to 60 mph around the clock through March. It also added new traffic cameras and message signs in the area.
This proposal would allow ODOT more flexibility to adjust speed limits on a short-term basis.
“The variable speed limits would be very temporarily in effect, maybe one to two hours in a day, or maybe not at all in a week. It would be something we could do based on what we know the conditions are at the time,” McFarland said.
She said the state legislature is expected to decide on the budget by April 1. If approved, she said ODOT would first test variable speed limits on I-670 in Columbus before expanding the program across the state.