ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Drivers can legally zip along some local stretches of interstate highway more quickly after a new 70 mph speed limit took effect in portions of Ohio Monday.
The change raises the speed limit in some areas from 65 mph to 70 mph. Ohio is the 34th state to make the change.
Locally, a portion of Interstate 70 in western Belmont County is affected. The speed limit on I-70 will rise from the Indiana border in the west to exit 215, where National Road crosses over the interstate on the western edge of St. Clairsville. The increase excludes portions of I-70 that pass through the Dayton area, Columbus and Zanesville.
In Belmont County, the speed limit will remain at 65 mph from just west of the Interstate 70-Ohio 9 interchange in St. Clairsville to the West Virginia border, according to Ohio Department of Transportation spokeswoman Becky Giauque. The speed limit on Interstate 470 will remain at 65 mph.
The Ohio Department of Transportation said the speed limit is increasing on more than 570 miles of the state's 1,332 miles of interstate highways, applying to parts of Interstates 70, 71, 75, 76, 77 and 90.
It doesn't cover sections of those roads in major metropolitan areas and a few smaller cities along the way.
New or updated signs already are in place locally to alert drivers about the higher speed limits. ODOT was charged with making 317 new signs to comply with the legislation and to alert motorists to the increased speed at a total cost of $8,287.19. They include eight "Reduced Speed Ahead" signs, 48 new speed limit signs and 261 sign pieces that will overlay the current 65 number with the new speed limit.
The state is also raising speeds on more rural roadways. An amendment to the state budget bill signed Sunday by Gov. John Kasich includes an increase to 70 mph on rural freeways.
The National Motorists Association, which advocates for speed limits in line with what 85 percent of traffic is traveling, said the prevailing speed on many interstates already is 70 to 75 mph.
"People tend to drive at a safe and comfortable speed no matter what the posted limit is," association spokesman John Bowman told The Columbus Dispatch. "And they sort of realize that they reach a threshold where they aren't comfortable anymore, and they won't exceed that."
A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that about 72 percent of vehicles exceeded the speed limit on highways in 2009 - including about 20 percent that drove more than 10 mph over the limit.
Speed-limit increases have been opposed by the Ohio Insurance Institute and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They say higher speeds are dangerous.