With Wisconsin as the only midwestern state that still has 65 mph speed limits, state legislators are pushing for higher speed limits for rural state and interstate highways.

If the bill passes, speed limits would go up to 70 mph, just as Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Indiana have done. Wisconsin is one of only 12 states with a maximum speed limit of 65 mph or lower.

“We’re the only state in the Midwest that hasn’t done so,” Elizabeth Portz, spokesperson for Assembly Transportation committee Chair Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Whitewater, said. “We have made Wisconsin an island in that respect.”

The Assembly Transportation Committee will hold a public hearing Tuesday on the bill. Opponents of the measure say the proposed changes are not narrow enough.

Pam Moen, spokesperson for AAA Wisconsin, said the organization would not like to see an “across the board” increase.

“We would like to see any decisions about changing the speed limits be based on roadway design and safety,” Moen said.

Mike Mikalsen, spokesperson for bill sponsor Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, believes the increase in speed limit would be the right choice in terms of safety, adding the bill is long overdue.

Most major highways are already engineered and built to allow for 70 mph speeds, especially since many drivers already drive past the speed limit, Mikalsen added.

“It’s going to frankly reflect closer to the actual speed that’s moving on those highways today,” Mikalsen said.

Moen said the bill’s authors should consider studies on road speed that involve traffic and engineering investigations of each specific stretch of road.

If the Legislature wants to get involved in changing speed limits, legislation should be created with data in mind, Moen added.

Although speed limits are decided legislatively in most states, several approach the issue differently.

According to current law, the Missouri Legislature established a maximum speed limit of 70 mph, but the limit on specific roads is determined by the Missouri Department of Transportation, based on a speed study similar to one by AAA.

In Minnesota, there are statutory standardized speed limits determined by the classification of a road, but they can be amended in certain areas based on similar research.

The 2011-13 Wisconsin Strategic Highway Safety Plan found speed-related crashes are one of the biggest issues in road safety. According to the plan, the subtasks on the issue are to study different speed limits on special projects, on rural versus more urban highways, collect crash and speed data on interstate speed limits and study the impact of changing to a 70 mph speed limits. 

In 1996, Wisconsin increased the speed limit on 510 miles of road from 55 mph to 65 mph. according to a DOT study.

“The year following the increase accidents increase on these 510 miles by 14 percent. That was after a 17 percent increase the year before,” the study said.

However, Mikalsen said these statistics cannot necessarily be contributed to the speed limit increase since the study does not include weather data.

“That data from 95 to 97 is a little misleading,” Mikalsen said.