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January 15, 2008

Proposal seeks to raise highway speed limits

A new run at dialing up the speed limit to 70 mph on New Hampshire highways has rounded the first lap at the Statehouse. But the bill's sponsor said he's looking to improve safety, rather than feed drivers' need for speed.

Rep. David Smith, D-Nashua, said his real motive is to keep motorists traveling in the right lane, unless they're trying to pass. He said he believes this will make it easier to direct the flow of traffic around construction projects.

"New Hampshire - along with a lot of other states - is going to be having lots of construction, especially bridge construction" on the highways, Smith said. That increases the potential for confusion and accidents, he said.

"If slower traffic is keeping right, it's easier for vehicles to merge and go through," he said.

Smith has seen the system work in other states, like Kentucky, which have 70 mph on divided highways, but with a stay right provision.

The bill will have a hearing today before the House Transportation Committee. The session starts at noon at the Statehouse in Concord.

If it passes, the bill would give New Hampshire roads the fastest speed limit in New England. But Smith is so serious about the right lane issue that he said he'll drop the provision about raising the speed limit if that's what it takes to get the Legislature to pass the bill.

He doesn't expect opposition to new rules about staying in the right lane. It's the change in the speed limit which will get all of the attention. It's not a new idea, either, he said. But it's one that has been rejected in the past.

Interstate 93, which passes through Salem, Windham and Londonderry, would be one of the highways affected by the speed limit increase. Drivers at the Londonderry Shell station yesterday said Smith's proposal makes sense, as everybody already drives 70 mph on I-93, if not faster.

Sean Costello of Londonderry said he has seen 70 mph speed limits work in Florida, and he would support the move to 70 mph in New Hampshire.

Stephen Consoli of Hudson said the higher speed limit would help him.

"I go back and forth from Salem to Derry three or four times a day," he said. "That would be good for me."

Hampstead police Chief Joe Beaudoin agreed that few people obey the 65 mph speed limit, but he still thinks 70 is too fast for I-93.

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