By JOSH THALL
Capitol News Service
LANSING — A new package of bills would result in higher speed limits on state roads across Michigan and fewer “speed traps” set by local police departments, if passed and signed into law.
The bills are designed to set optimum speeds on state roadways by relying on driver behavior, road conditions and accident data, according to officials with the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of Transportation. The package would also restrict local governments from arbitrarily lowering speed limits on sections of roadway, supporters said.
A similar proposal was introduced two years ago by Republican Sen. Rick Jones of Grand Ledge, a former county sheriff who supports the bills.
“The Michigan State Police gave a presentation on how, for 40 years, speed limits have been set scientifically and it has been shown to be the safest speed,” Jones said. “You have less accidents, less problems if all the traffic is flowing properly.”
The new legislation would cut down on speed traps by preventing township boards and other local units from lowering the speed limits of roads due to factors such as the road commission being petitioned to lower the speed limit near houses, according to an analysis of the package of legislation by Aarne Frobom, from the Michigan Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Planning.
“It would stop cities from artificially posting at lower limits,” Jones said. “For example, we found a number of cities that were posting 25 mph zones in roads that should be 35, 40 or even 45, and then they were ordering their police to sit in those zones and write as many tickets as they could.”
Tom Frazier, the legislative liaison for the Michigan Townships Association, said talk about speed traps is exaggerated. Townships and other local governments typically work with the Michigan State Police and County Road Commission on speed studies to see what a good speed for the road could be, he said.
“I do not think that (speed traps) is a legitimate issue frankly,” Frazier said. “When we petition the county road commission to lower a speed limit, generally that is because township residents along that particular road have requested it or come to the township about concerns about the speed of vehicles on a particular road. So being the government that is closest to the people, the residents come to the township board with those concerns.”
Under the package, townships would not be able to reduce speed on state roads.
Instead, the bills would require that speeds are set by data collected by the Michigan State Police, Michigan County Road Association and the Michigan Department of Transportation.
To determine these scientific speeds for roads, MDOT and the Michigan State Police look at factors such as crash data, traffic volumes, and conditions and curves of a road, according to MDOT Communications Director Jeff Cranson.
Trooper Tim Fitzgerald, the Michigan State Police legislative liaison, said the department uses a system based on what speed most cars drive, called the 85th percentile.
“They look at a stretch of roadway, when there isn’t congestion or anything, and no traffic jams – with traffic flowing well, and look at the speeds of cars in the free flow of traffic,” Fitzgerald said.
Looking at what 85 percent of drivers are doing and comparing that behavior to other speed studies helps set realistic, reasonable and safe speed limits, said 1st Lt. Jim Flegel of the traffic services division of the Michigan State Police.
The speed limit bill package includes bills introduced by Rep. Bradford Jacobsen R-Oxford; Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes; Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette; and Rep. Charles Smiley, D-Burton. The bills have been referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
None of the sponsoring legislators responded to requests for comment.
By JOSH THALL