Turnpike Speed Limit Boost Bill Heads to House

Mary Wilson May 9, 2012

Motorists may have the option of going a full five miles per hour faster on the Turnpike, if one state House proposal is approved. The plan would raise the roadways upper limit from 65 to 70 miles-per-hour.

The 70 miles per hour speed limit idea is a bit of a throwback. In fact, the Turnpike was something of a wild west in its early days.

“When the Turnpike opened October 1st, 1940, there was no speed limit — unlimited speed,” said Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission spokesman Carl DeFebo. “It wasn’t until 1941 that there was a bill signed implementing a 70 mile an hour passenger car speed limit.”

Shortly after 1941, lower speed limits were imposed when the onset of World War II brought fuel rationing, DeFebo said. The most recent speed limit increase happened in 2005.

Democratic state Representative Joe Preston of Allegheny County is behind the bill to boost that upper limit, but only if the Turnpike Commission so chooses. “It doesn’t mean that it has to,” said Preston. Having the option to impose a higher limit makes sense, he added, because vehicles are safer and the Turnpike has been widened, flattened, and straightened over the past decade or so. DeFebo said the Commission has no opinion on speed limit legislation, but he did note that more than 70 miles of the roadway have been rebuilt in recent years.

“Those types of improvements — a wider road, you know, a wider median, wider shoulders, plus gentler slopes and curves — they do tend to be more conducive to higher speed limits,” said DeFebo.

Democrats were the only lawmakers to vote against the bill in the House Transportation Committee. It now heads to the full House for a vote.