PHOTO: Speed limit

STATE transportation officials would argue that what amounts to a unilateral decision to raise speed limits in a locality is not the arbitrary action it appears to be, but is based on carefully gathered statistics and other findings from an engineering study.

But in the case of King George County, some local officials and residents think they should be able to just say “no” to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plan to raise the speed limit on State Route 3 and U.S. 301 from 55 mph to 60 mph.

VDOT says a change would be based on its study weighing such factors as current vehicle speeds, road geometry, crash history, law enforcement data and the surrounding environment.

Everybody knows that in the real world, raising the limit from 55 to 60 actually means that they’d be raising it from 65 to 70 because so many drivers routinely drive 10 mph over the limit. So you have to figure that falls under “current vehicle speeds.”

We can’t pass judgment on questions about the accuracy of the data VDOT collects, other than knowing that data collection is a key function of every project it undertakes.

According to King George County Administrator Neiman Young, VDOT’s District Administrator Marcie Parker indicated to him that local requests to maintain current speed limits won’t carry weight in the decision-making process, unless they involve safety concerns regarding congested areas or school zones, for example.

Stafford officials won such compromises on U.S. 17 from Poplar Road to the Fauquier County line, and on Route 3 from Ferry Farm to the King George County line, where the 55 mph limit has been retained.

VDOT seeks resolutions from localities affirming the proposed changes, and has already gotten the green light from Caroline, Gloucester and Richmond counties for their applicable roadways. The idea—and VDOT’s preference—is to do these things regionally so drivers aren’t having to adjust their speed from locality to locality.

We don’t want to portray VDOT as a villain here because this ball started rolling when some King George residents asked the Board of Supervisors a while ago to look into raising the speed limits. Specific areas targeted for the increase are where Route 3 and U.S. 301 are divided, and on non-limited access and multiple-lane highways.

The supervisors, in turn, reached out to their General Assembly representatives, who won the necessary change in state code during the 2018 session. VDOT then pursued its process with the engineering study and its visits with boards of supervisors.

Among the VDOT officials who came to King George was Administrator Stephen McKeever, who notes that most traffic is already going 60 mph anyway, and that the affected stretches of highway have below-average crash rates. He said local and state law enforcement endorsed the speed limit increase.

We sympathize with King George officials and residents who are concerned about school bus stops along the affected routes and distracted drivers, who Board Chairman Jeff Bueche described as, “idiots on the road who like to look down at their texts.”

He’s got a point, and we hope VDOT is able to persuasively address all the concerns they’ve raised.

Now that King George has held its public hearing on the issue, the next step would be to make its best case to VDOT and hope for a compromise like the one Stafford was granted. If that doesn’t work, at least King George will know it gave the issue its best shot.

Twitter: @FLS_Opinion

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