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Nevada, perhaps to match Texas, eyes 85 mph speed limit

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 9:40 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — LAS VEGAS — Nevada state Sen. Don Gustavson knows how long and boring some of those drives across the Silver State can be. So he wants to speed things up a bit.

On Monday, he introduced a bill that paves the way for Nevada to increase the maximum speed limit to 85 mph in those areas where state transportation officials determine that speed is safe. If enacted, the new speed limit would match the one in Texas for the nation’s fastest.

“I drive on rural roads a lot here in northern Nevada — my district is huge,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There’s 37,000 square miles in this state. It’s a big, big place. The way I see it, this new limit just paves the way for a speed people are already doing out there anyway.”

In the state capitol of Carson City, Gustavson has a reputation as a pie-in-the-sky thinker. His previous effort to repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet law garnered little support from his legislative colleagues. But this one has a shot. The co-sponsors for Senate Bill 191 include 16 of the 21 senators, with Senate Democrat leader Mo Denis and Republican leader Michael Roberson among them. In the Assembly, Republican leader Pat Hickey is a co-sponsor.

In introducing the bill, Gustavson gave a tongue-in-cheek nod to his fellow lawmakers.

“Some legislators have expressed to me what a long lonely drive it is from Las Vegas to the state Capitol,” said the Republican senator from Sparks, in the Reno area. “Passage of this legislation could make them less lonely.”

On rural highways in Nevada, the top speed is 70 mph. On interstates it’s 75.

Only Utah and Texas have speed limits exceeding 75 mph. In Texas, 80 mph is common, and one toll road has a posted limit of 85. In Utah, 80 mph is allowed in several places across the desert state.

Gustavson said he’s done his research on this one.

“Utah’s statistics show that the fatality rates in those areas with higher speed limits have actually gone down,” he told the Times. They thought that once it went up, the death toll would go with it. But the average speed under the lower limit was 82 before, and now it’s 85.”

He added, “I think many travelers in Utah can now observe what’s ahead of them instead of concentrating on their rearview mirror ticket-bearing troopers.”

State transportation officials question whether U.S. Highway 95, the main route between Las Vegas and Reno, could support higher limits. The road for hundreds of miles is two-lane with narrow shoulders. Gustavson thinks it’s possible.

“I drove 95 the other day down to Pahrump,” he told the Times. “It was long and boring. There were stretches where you could go faster.”

Speed limits have historically been faster in Nevada. Before the federal government established a 55 mph national speed limit, the Silver State allowed motorists to travel at any “safe and sane” speed.

But if any L.A.-to-Vegas weekend commuters think that a new speed limit would allow them to drive faster on the I-15 corridor, Gustavson warns them to think again.

“I think these new speeds would mainly apply to the central and northern parts of the state,” he said.

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