LITTLE ROCK, AR (KAIT) – Drivers will soon legally get to go more than 55 mph on several four- or five-lane highways, mostly in rural areas.
The Arkansas Highway Commission approved plans Wednesday to raise the speed limit to 60 mph on about 265 miles of highways through the state. The change will go into effect in the coming weeks.
The speed modifications will affect a number of roads in Northeast Arkansas, including a 13-mile section of Highway 49 between Jonesboro and Paragould. Neighbors have long complained of speeding in the area, and now they fear what will happen when the speed limit officially changes.
"The speed limit's 55 now, so they're doing 60 and 65," said Darlene Downs, who lives along Hwy. 49. "If they're raising it to 60, they're going to be doing 65 and 70."
Downs commutes every day from her home, north of Goobertown, to her job in Jonesboro. She can simply turn onto Hwy. 49 from her driveway, and she has become accustomed to fighting traffic just to do that. Now, she worries how much longer she'll have to wait just to start her commute.
"I'd say (the state highway department) needs to do some more studying and check that out and see if they really think that it's a safe thing to do to raise it," Downs said, "because I think it's going to cost people lives."
Scott Bennett, the director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, said in a statement this week that the department studied 87 sections of highway, all longer than two miles, before making a recommendation to change the speed limit. Bennett wrote that engineers looked at how the highways were designed, locations of signal lights and school zones and even crash statistics.
"Based on a thorough engineering analysis, where safety is always first," Bennett said in a press release, "we have determined that there are sections of these highways that may warrant a raise in the speed limit."
Approximately 265 miles of rural, four- and five-lane, undivided highways are included and will be considered for raising speed limits from 55 mph to 60 mph, according to the highway department's press release. It also reported people could see changes to speed limit signs within the next few weeks.
That's the welcome news for drivers like Susie Bilbrey.
"I always go 60 to 65," Bilbrey said about how fast she normally travels on Hwy. 49, "and I mean it took us about 45 minutes to get (to Goobertown) this morning from Walnut Ridge. I'll be excited when it goes up to 60."
Other commuters, like Leia Taylor of Paragould, say few benefits can come from changing the speed limit.
"It seems like the growth between Jonesboro and Paragould should slow the road down naturally," Taylor said," and, to raise it, it just seems dangerous and counterintuitive."
Other roads in Northeast Arkansas set to see their speed limit change to 60 mph are listed below:
- Hwy. 18 – Jonesboro to Lake City, West of Blytheville
- Hwy. 49 – Paragould to Jonesboro
- Hwy. 63 – Walnut Ridge to Sedgwick, Sedgwick to Jonesboro
- Hwy. 67 – Walnut Ridge to Pocahontas
- Hwy. 167 – Southside to Bald Knob
- Hwy. 412 – West of Paragould, Paragould to Missouri state line