Lawmakers approve bill boosting speed limit on some Kansas highways to 75

Motorcyclists get special relief at red lights

? Kansas may soon increase the speed limit to 75 mph on some of its highways and allow motorcycle and bicycle riders to proceed through “dead” red lights.

A bill making those changes won final approval Friday from the Legislature. The votes were 23-14 in the Senate and 107-13 in the House on the final version drafted by negotiators for the two chambers.

The measure goes next to Gov. Sam Brownback. He hasn’t publicly taken a position on it, and his spokeswoman said only that he’d study it carefully. If he signs it, the changes will take effect July 1.

The push to raise the speed limit began with Rep. Marvin Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican, who argued that the change will help the state’s economy. He said companies have an incentive to bypass Kansas in shipping products because they can save time with routes through other states.

“It will make us more competitive. There’s a lot of east-west, and even north-south options,” he said. “This will bring more business — logistics and distribution business — across Kansas.”

Other supporters argued that Kansans already are traveling more than the top speed limit of 70 mph on major highways already, and the change recognizes it.

The bill allows the secretary of transportation to set the new speed limit on divided, four-lane highways. The Department of Transportation estimates 1,060 miles of highway would be eligible, mostly interstates and roughly 10 percent of the state’s total highway miles.

But Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican, said the change will make major highways less safe.

“I think when the speed limit’s 70, people drive 75 or 80. I think when it’s 75, they drive 80 or 85,” she said. “We will see an increase in fatalities on our highways and we will see an increase in the severity of injuries on our highways.”

The red light provision is a response to complaints from motorcyclists about traffic signals that don’t change unless they’re triggered by sensors when a motorist approaches them. They note motorcycles and bicycles often are too light to trigger such signals, in theory leaving their riders waiting for long periods.

The measure says that with a “steady” red signal, motorcyclists and bicyclists can move through the light after “a reasonable period of time.”