Hit the gas: Md. lawmaker wants to up speed limits on Capital Beltway, I-270

WASHINGTON — Variable speed limits between the Capital Beltway and Interstate 70 in Western Maryland are enough of an issue for drivers that one Maryland lawmaker wants to boost the speed limits on the Beltway and Interstate 270 to 70 mph.

Moving from one interstate to another means the speeds you were safely and legally driving at one point can get you a ticket just a couple of miles later, as limits range from 55 miles per hour on Interstate 495 and I-270 to 70 miles per hour on I-70.

Democratic State Sen. Joanne Benson of Prince George’s County said it’s simply time to raise the speed limits.

According to Benson, slowing down to avoid a potential ticket can have an even more dangerous consequence, since people so rarely obey posted speed limits on the Beltway.

Benson spoke for a few minutes Thursday about her bill in front of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, offering her introduction of legislation she said will ease congestion and reduce the number of speeding tickets doled out.

“The Senate Bill 55 seeks to create consistency in speed limits among Maryland expressways and interstate highways,” said Benson.

“Once again, an abrupt change is introduced when individuals traveling on to Interstate 495 must again decelerate their vehicles to 55 miles per hour if they’re coming down from 270. Further complicating matters, adequate signage is not placed notifying drivers of the adjustment.”

The speed limit along I-270 changes from 65 mph to 55 mph coming south from Frederick County into Montgomery County.

The speed limit on for 31 miles of I-70 from U.S. 29 in Howard County to Md. 144 in Frederick County was raised from 65 mph to 70 mph in 2016. The speed limit also went up to 70 mph on the 45-mile stretch from Md. 180 in Frederick County to the Washington County-Pennsylvania Line. Near the City of Frederick, the I-70 speed limit is 55 mph. Near the Baltimore Beltway, the I-70 speed limit is 65 mph.

A provision in the bill addresses how often signs posting the speed limit must be placed on the highway. She said her bill tackles two problems with the current set up — one is the “threat of increased traffic on our interstates.”

She also said the lower speed limits “places our drivers at risk of receiving innumerable amounts of speeding citations.”

At that point, Benson started speaking frankly with the other lawmakers in attendance, telling them: “I would venture to say that there aren’t too many people on 495 that do 55 miles per hour,” before turning to a state trooper in the room and jokingly saying, “the police officer did not hear that.”

Benson also acknowledged an argument that opponents of her bill are likely to make, which is that higher speed limits pose a greater risk for drivers. But she argued that the abrupt change in speed down to 55 miles per hour compared to what the speed limit is on some highways also causes accidents while also adding congestion.

“I have witnessed through my own personal experiences that any driver operating their vehicle at the posted speed faces the risk of being run off the road,” Benson said.

So far there’s only one other sponsor of the bill, making passage far from certain. In addition, even legislation that passes into law in Annapolis often fails several times in preceding years.


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