State senators on Thursday accelerated toward increasing speed limits up to 75 mph on some Florida interstates.
Sixteen other states have raised speed limits beyond 70 mph, but Florida would join Maine as the only state east of the Mississippi River to do so.
Most of the Sunshine State’s congested, urban roadways would be unaffected.
"The areas that we’re talking about…are the rural areas, the straight areas, the flat areas," the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said.
The boost to 75 mph would apply to stretches of four-lane Interstate highways with current maximum speeds of 70 mph. That could include portions of interstates 10, 75 and 95, and parts of Florida's Turnpike.
Divided highways with at least four lanes in sparsely populated rural areas could have speed limits boosted from 65 mph to 70 mph, including Alligator Alley, which carries Interstate 75 through the Everglades.
The bill also would increase minimum speeds and Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said that was worrisome, especially with so many senior citizens traveling Florida's roadways.
“We are encouraging all drivers to drive faster whether they want to or not,” Gibson said. “We’re a tourist state. We want people to slow down, not speed up.”
AAA Auto Group opposes the proposed changes.
Co-sponsored by Brandes and Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, SB 392 allows the state’s Department of Transportation to increase speed limits only after completing highways studies and concluding what would be safe minimum and maximum speed limits.
Increased limits would adjust speeds to what most motorists already are driving and accommodate the ever-increasing number of vehicles on the state’s roadways, the sponsors have said.
“It allows the DOT to set the speed limit based on engineering and science,” Clemens said. “We’re talking about 5 mph, we’re not talking about raising the speed limit to 90 or 95.”
Florida's highways have had a 70 mph maximum since 1996, the last time the speed limit was reviewed.
A companion bill (HB 761), sponsored by Rep. Matthew Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, has yet to go to that chamber’s floor for a vote.