RALEIGH, WAKE COUNTY - An effort to raise the maximum speed limit on North Carolina highways to 75 mph reached a stop sign Thursday as the House voted down a proposal to direct a state agency to study the idea and offer roads on which to experiment.
The bill failed 44-64, one week after House members halted an earlier version of a Senate bill that would have authorized the state Department of Transportation to set a 75 mph on roads where safety and engineering allowed.
A House committee later endorsed an amended version directing the state Department of Transportation to study raising the 70 mph speed limit on some interstates and other roads. DOT would then report to a legislative oversight panel by next January and propose to four roads for a pilot project. The full General Assembly would still have had to approve the pilot, perhaps next spring.
Several legislators - many of whom opposed the original bill last week - railed against the scaled-down version Thursday. They said the study proposal was rushed and lacked details. They remained worried about safety and didn't see a good reason to consider raising the limit.
"I can't find one good thing out of raising the speed limit to 75," said Rep. Josh Dobson, R-McDowell.
"I keep asking myself what is the point? What is the point of going 5 mph faster?" added Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan.
Sixteen mostly Western states currently have maximum speed limits of 75 mph or higher, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In Maine, the only East Coast state with a 75 mph limit, one isolated interstate approaching the Canadian border now carries that posted speed.
The sponsor of the original bill, Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said previously he wanted allow motorists to drive a little faster on uncongested roads without having to worry about getting a ticket. Others argued drivers already travel at speeds between 75 and 80 mph on roads with posted limits of 70.
Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, who was shepherding the new version of the bill, pointed out that "it raises no limits and it sets no tests" that would mandate 75 mph road experiments. But the requirement that DOT propose up to four roads to the committee presupposed an outcome of the DOT study, said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland.
Neither version of the bill identified possible roads that could have been raised to 75 mph, although lawmakers often referred to straight portions of Interstate 40 in eastern North Carolina as a possibility.
Thursday's defeat means the idea likely can't come up again for debate until 2015.