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US 59, 75 to up speed limit

Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Dennis Salzwedel changes a speed limit sign to 60 mph on Monday morning on U.S. Highway 59 north of Worthington. (Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe)1 / 2
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WORTHINGTON — The Minnesota Department of Transportation is allowing drivers to go a little faster on U.S. 59 and U.S. 75.

MnDOT recently announced the posted speed limit will increase from 55 mph to 60 mph, and the change became effective Monday. On U.S. 59, the change will happen north of Interstate 90.

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“It makes 59 a little more popular,” said City of Worthington Director of Engineering Dwayne Haffield. “What generally MnDOT is recognizing is that those speeds are generally running that. That way, they are able to tighten the speed group a little bit by letting those who strictly adhere to the speed limit to move up to what maybe what typically it’s more traveled at.”

On U.S. 59, parts of the road will still remain with a 55 mph limit.

“It’s all of 59 except for two segments — not south of Interstate 90 and not between Marshall and Clarkfield on 59,” State Traffic Engineer Sue Groth said. “Those will remain the same because those have very different characteristics. In fact, it’s my understanding they have little or no shoulders at all, so we were not interested in increasing the speed limits there.”

In total, 730 miles of road will be increased by 5 mph. That includes all of U.S. 75.

“That looks like it can handle the change,” Groth said.

According to a letter sent from District Traffic Engineer Scott Thompson to city and county officials, MnDOT was asked to assess the speed limit on two separate two-lane highways, U.S. 75 and U.S. 59. They were evaluated using various measures including a speed study, roadway geometric considerations and crash history.

Based on those factors, Thompson wrote, it was recommended that the speed limit be increased on those roadways.

“We are confident that a 60-mph speed limit is safe and reasonable for these roadways,” Thompson said. “This is reinforced by observed travel speeds most motorists are currently choosing to drive on these roadways.”

In 2005, MnDOT raised the speed limit on 930 miles of two-lane roads from 55 to 60.

“Those roadways were thoroughly evaluated and it was determined that the increased speed limit did not have a negative impact on the safety for the roadway users,” Thompson wrote.

Since it has been so long between changes, Groth said it’s not a common practice.

“I would say no — we don’t frequently evaluate these large portions,” she said. “We were asked to do that by some legislators who were interested in increased speed limits across the state. We think that’s the wrong way to do it.

“We think we need to very carefully consider the roadways before we blankly increase speed limits,” Groth continued. “We kind of evaluated across the state with the different district offices. We really felt 75 and 59 were kind of the next best candidates of these two-lane two-way roads for us to consider.”

Before making the decision to move forward on these roads, MnDOT carefully looked at the history of the previous roads where limits were increased.

“We were wondering what would happen on these roads and they followed the same trend as the rest of the state,” Groth said. “We didn’t see any negative safety impacts on the roads that we chose previously. That was kind of key. We didn’t want to raise more if we saw that there was an issue on the previous roads.”

Even though the speed limit has increased, Groth said it was important to remember the conditions of a road may not allow for higher speeds.

“We’re all governed by what’s called the basic speed limit law, which states no person should drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed that’s greater than what’s reasonably prudent for conditions,” she said. “In other words, people really need to drive for the conditions.

“We’re really governed by the overall speed limit law,” Groth added. “Even though we’re adjusting the speed limit up five miles per hour, people still really need to drive the conditions and what’s reasonable and prudent.”

And while the new speeds will be allowed, that also means there will be more enforcement.

“I think that’s important that people know we’re raising the speed limits, but you’re going to see an increased enforcement of the new limit over the next few months, too,” Groth said. “And all the regular stuff — buckle up, pay attention and never drink and drive. We’re hesitant to do this just because we really want to make sure it’s safe. The other factors will certainly help keep it safe.”