Thursday, May 7, 2015

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

I had to chuckle at the stream of celebratory press releases from lawmakers and business groups yesterday after the State Senate approved the bill raising the speed limit on Wisconsin interstates and expressways to 70 miles per hour.  You would have thought that we were going from the wagon train to bullet trains the way some people were talking about the "time savings" that will occur now that we can go a whole five miles an hour faster along some roads.

Don't get me wrong, I like going fast as much as the next guy.  Driving the German Autobahn in a Ferrari Enzo while blasting Van Halen's Panama--or maybe in a Mercedes SLR with Beethoven on the Blaupunkt, I can never decide--is definitely on the bucket list.  But I also understand math and physics and I know that going from 65 to 70 is really no big deal.

Whereas going from 55 to 65 was an 18% increase in speed, going from 65 to 70 is just a 7% increase.  You will be covering 1.17 miles per minute at 70--while you were doing 1.08 miles a minute at 65.  To put that into the context of time, your 19-mile drive from Oshkosh to Appleton used to take 17-minutes and 34 seconds.  At 70 it will take you 16-minutes and 15 seconds.  A time savings of 1-minute and 19 seconds.  A trip from Oshkosh to Green Bay is going from 46-minutes and 18-seconds to 42-minutes and 45-seconds.  A less than three-and-a-half minute difference.

And it's not like we here in the Fox Valley are going to be able to take advantage of the higher limits immediately after they are enacted.  The 441/41 interchange will be a mess for another couple of years.  You have the I-41 reconstruction zone north of Menasha to Appleton and the mess on the west side of Green Bay for a couple years as well.  And then comes the expansion of 41 between Green Bay and Kaukauna a few years after all of the other construction is done and we'll have as much 55-mile an hour highway as we do 70 through the end of the decade.  Don't expect to cut a half hour off your trip to Mitchell Airport or Miller Park either--as the limit on I-41 and 90/94 in Milwaukee County will not be going up either.  And neither will the stretches of 41 north of Green Bay to Marinette or 151 between Waupun and Madison due to at-grade crossings along those stretches (that provision was added in the Senate version of the bill).

So set your cruise control to 77 now instead of 72 and try to think of what to do with the extra one to three minutes you are going to save on that next trip.  I guess I could use that time to watch more Youtube videos of guys doing 189 on the Autobahn.

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