Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The latest urban vs. rural spat – how fast can Chicago-area motorists drive?

It has been more than a decade since I regularly rode the interstates between Springfield and Chicago. Yet one of my lasting memories of the three-hour drive each way was that moment when I entered the greater Chicago area.

QUINN: Squabbling over speed
It was the point in Will County when the landscape went from rural to suburban – and the speed limits suddenly dropped (if driving toward Chicago) from 65 miles an hour down to 55.

IT WAS JUST a given that when the state of Illinois increased the speed limits from the traditional 55 mph (and telephone calls used to cost a dime) to 65, the higher limit only applied to the portions of interstate highways that were in rural parts of the state.

The areas where there wasn’t as much traffic – or what traffic there was merely passed through the area without making stops – were allowed to drive at the faster rate.

It also meant that someone could literally go from doing the speed limit to exceeding it by 10 miles an hour – and could get a ticket for speeding if an Illinois state trooper just happened to be in the area.

If anything, the fact that troopers liked to hang out in the area to bolster their traffic citations issued was the sudden warning that one had to slow down their vehicles to accommodate the slower speed limit meant for urban areas.

BUT THINGS COULD change. Or maybe not. We’re going to see in coming weeks what will become of our interstate speed limits.

For Gov. Pat Quinn this week signed into law a measure that boosts the speed limit to 70 miles an hour – although only on the rural portions of interstate highways. To listen to Quinn, the speed limit remains 55 on urban and suburban-area highways.

Although in what has become the latest urban/rural political spat, we have the state legislator who crafted the increase (state Sen. James Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove) claiming he meant for the change in law to be truly statewide.

OBERWEIS: Statewide attention?
A sudden surge from 55 to 70 – once the new law takes effect Jan. 1.

THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES reported that the new law may bolster the speed limit on all parts of the interstates in Illinois. But it also cited an “opt-out” provision that allows officials in the urban-area counties (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will) to exclude themselves from a 70 mile-an-hour speed limit.

Although there are those officials who think that that counties don’t have jurisdiction over interstates, no matter what any opt-out provision says. There also seems to be confusion amongst county officials as to just what the law says.

Nobody seems to know what the new law says. Which could make the whole concept so confusing that it can’t even stand up in court. Who knows what will happen?

Although the idea that drivers need to slow up their vehicles once they get into the Chicago area is such an entrenched concept in Illinois that the Quinn interpretation of the law is the one that is consistent with the way things are done in Lincoln’s land.

UNLESS THE TRUE intent of this new law was a desire to force some rural standard down the collective throat of the state’s urban majority. In which case, it is nothing more than a politically partisan stunt.

There is, of course, the bottom line that makes the idea of legally whizzing through Chicago at 70 miles an hour nothing more than a fantasy.

With the way Chicago roads are perpetually under construction and repair, there’s just no way anyone is going to seriously get their cars going anywhere near 70. If anything, their cars will creep along at 20 miles an hour while he drivers see the speed limit signs and dream about getting up to 55 – let alone 70.


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