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Semi driving on Interstate 80

Traffic moves along Interstate 80 east of Lincoln. 

The trucking industry joined hands with highway safety advocates Tuesday in opposing legislation that would increase speed limits on Nebraska highways.

The bill (LB1009), introduced by Sen. John Murante of Gretna and supported by Gov. Pete Ricketts, would generally increase speed limits by 5 mph on state highways while authorizing the Department of Transportation to consider hiking the interstate speed limit from 75 to 80 mph.

Christopher Hilkemann, speaking for Crete Carrier Corp., told the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee that his company opposes increases in speed limits above 65 mph on the state's highway system and any increase in speed limits above 75 mph on the Interstate system.  

Crete Carrier's fleet is governed to drive no faster than 65 mph, he said, out of concern for "the safety of our drivers and the public."

Higher speeds lead to "more-frequent and more-serious collisions," Hilkemann said, and create "many more opportunities for unsafe driving."

Dick Reiser, speaking for the Nebraska Trucking Association, noted that higher speeds increase the stopping distance required by trucks and create additional safety challenges when slower-accelerating trucks are moving onto highways and expressways.

Murante told the committee that the proposed new speed limits conform to the so-called "85 percentile" highway speed principle employed by engineers as they measure the speed at or below which 85 percent of all vehicles are observed to travel under free-flowing traffic conditions.

The bill "reflects driving patterns that are telling engineers what are appropriate speeds," Murante said, taking into account the fact that uniform traffic flow is a key component of highway safety.

Nebraska Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis said the proposed speed limits are the result of careful "research and study and engineering."

A number of engineers, including Lancaster County Engineer Pam Dingman, joined the Nebraska Restaurant Association in supporting the bill.

Rose White, speaking for AAA Auto Club Group, told the committee that increasing the speed from 75 to 80 mph on Interstate 80 would save a motorist who was driving between Omaha and Lincoln just 2½ minutes, while leading to higher fuel consumption and the increased risk of severe crashes.

"Instead of saving minutes, we should focus on saving lives," said Eric Koeppe, president and CEO of the National Safety Council of Nebraska.

"Speed kills," Laurie Klosterboer, Nebraska Safety Council executive director, told the committee.

Several opponents suggested that what Nebraska really needs is stronger laws to combat distracted driving, including texting.

The bill would create a new "super-two" highway classification in Nebraska designed for through traffic with passing lanes spaced intermittently to provide "predictable opportunities to pass slower-moving vehicles."

Speed limits on other highways, with the exception of the interstate, generally would be boosted by 5 mph.  

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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