MADISON, Wis. — A Republican lawmaker tried to persuade a legislative committee Tuesday to approve his bill that would raise Wisconsin's speed limit to 70 mph, saying the change would improve traffic flow and allow commuters to spend more time at home.
Rep. Paul Tittl, of Manitowoc, told the Assembly's transportation committee during a public hearing on the measure that Wisconsin drivers are ready for a higher limit, noting that Wisconsin is the only Midwestern state with a 65 mph limit. He said he drove from Manitowoc to Madison at the speed limit and his was the slowest car on the road.
"It was embarrassing," he said. "I had little old ladies passing me."
He said he thinks drivers are ready for a higher speed limit and that faster speeds could improve highway safety. The change would help commuters spend a few more minutes each day at home — time that would add up to hours per year, he later told reporters.
What's more, he told the committee, the higher limit would help tourists decide to travel further into the state and keep them spending money here for a few minutes longer.
Minority Democrats on the committee questioned whether the new limit would lead to worse injuries in crashes. They argued that a higher limit would make merging and crossing freeways more dangerous.
Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, asked Tittl if he'd be open to amending the bill to include stiffer penalties for distracted driving and not wearing a seatbelt, but Tittl said those changes should come through separate legislation. After the hearing Bernard Schaber said there's a reason why Wisconsin hasn't increased its speed limit like its neighboring states: "Our roads are not the same as every other state's roads," she said.
Gary Biller, the president of the National Motorists Association, told the committee that he thinks a higher speed limit would reduce driver frustration. The common speed on the state's interstates and freeways is 70 mph to 75 mph, making people who travel at 65 dangerous, Biller said.
"We're only talking about 5 mph over the limit and it's the speed people are going anyway," Biller said after the hearing.
Tittl's bill would require state Department of Transportation officials to raise the limit to 70 on about two dozen stretches of four-lane interstates, freeways and expressways around the state within two months of Gov. Scott Walker signing the legislation into law.
Tittl told the committee, however, that he plans to amend the bill to erase the list and allow DOT to decide where to raise the limit. He said the changes would make things simpler.
Tittl's fellow Republicans control the Senate, Assembly and the governor's office. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, supports the measure. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, initially said the bill isn't a priority.
But Tittl has been working with Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, chairman of the Senate transportation committee, to build support in that chamber. Petrowski said in a telephone interview that letting DOT decide where to post 70 mph makes the bill more palatable.
Fitzgerald spokesman Dan Romportl said the majority leader feels more comfortable with the bill now that Petrowski is collaborating on it with Tittl and would be open to bringing the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. He said Fitzgerald hadn't seen the bill when he made his initial remarks.
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