SOUTHERN INDIANA — Indiana University Southeast student Kaitlyn Avery frequently uses Interstate 65 and Interstate 265 to visit her family in Scottsburg, but when she reaches the 55 mph speed limit through Sellersburg, she can face some challenges.
"Whenever I am driving southbound [on I-65], traffic normally goes 65 to 70 regardless of the posted speed limit," she said. "I normally go 60 to 65 to keep up with traffic, which is really frustrating. If you go too slow, you might be hit, but if you go too fast, a cop's going to get you or you might hit somebody else."
Avery is among the people who will be affected by upcoming speed limit changes in Southern Indiana. This spring — a date has not been set — the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) will raise speed limits on portions of I-65 and I-265 in Clark and Floyd counties.
Drivers on I-65 South currently have to slow down from 70 mph to 55 mph going through Sellersburg, but with the changes, the speed limit will be increased to 70 mph on I-65 South from Sellersburg to the I-265 interchange.
The speed limit will be 65 mph from I-265 to Exit 1, and from Exit 1 to the state line at the bridge, it will be 60 mph. The speed limit on I-265 will increase from 55 to 65 from the Lewis and Clark Bridge to shortly before the I-64 interchange.
INDOT spokesperson Scott Manning said the department reviewed factors such as infrastructure, road design, traffic volume, traffic conditions and crash statistics to determine appropriate changes in speed limit. The department has spent about a year evaluating conditions and speaking to law enforcement.
Major changes have occurred on those two highways with the recent Ohio River bridge projects and expansions on I-65 in recent years, he said, and INDOT wanted the speed limit to reflect the current infrastructure. For example, the department recently completed the addition of more travel lanes in each direction of I-65 from Memphis to Sellersburg, so the section of the interstate is now three lanes in both directions.
Many drivers are confused or unaware when the speed limit changes to 55 mph, particularly when they are traveling south on I-65, Manning said.
"Many motorists don't realize it drops that quickly," he said. "These changes will make that decrease while approaching the metro area a little more gradual. From a motorist standpoint, it will be more intuitive."
Manning said while there's been a general uptick in traffic volume in the area in recent years, there have not been significant increases in those areas of I-65 and I-265. He said INDOT's evaluation did not indicate that the increased speed limit would lead to more vehicle crashes, and he said an additional police presence will help enforce the new speed limits.
The Indiana State Police plans to have extra troopers in the area once the changes go into effect to make sure the transition runs smoothly. While more troopers will not be hired for that particular purpose, they might be redirected to the area as needed, according to Sgt. Carey Huls with the Indiana State Police Sellersburg Post.
He said while the area is currently well-marked, many drivers disregard the speed limit signs. The roadway is designed for a higher speed, he said, and he hopes the change will bring the legal speed limit more in line with the actual speed that people are driving.
"It's not difficult at all to find someone speeding," Huls said. "You can be on the side of the interstate or patrol that area and find someone within seconds that's not only speeding, but is drastically over the speed limit. Ten to 15 to 20 miles over the speed limit is very common, especially when the area's not being patrolled."
He said he believes the changes will decrease the number of traffic citations in those areas of I-65 and I-265. Last year, the Indiana State Police made 7,000 traffic stops in the 55 mph area of I-65 in Clark County, including both tickets and warnings.
"I don't see it increasing the number of speeders, per se, or people who are in violation of the law," he said. "Hopefully it will actually bring that number down and more people will be driving the posted speed limit."
Huls also hopes the changes will eliminate the disparities between people going the speed limit and those exceeding it, which will help reduce vehicle crashes and keep traffic flowing. Any time there's a major change in speed, it can lead to issues, he said, and while the biggest cause of most crashes in those areas is likely distracted driving, speed is often a factor.
He said with the upcoming changes, it is particularly important for motorists to be careful when merging into traffic because vehicles will be going at a greater speed. He also emphasizes that the changes are not yet in effect, and drivers must continue following the posted speed limit.
Truck driver Robert Reno, who works for Haney & White Enterprise in Kentucky, drives through that portion of I-65 everyday for his job, and he believes the changes in speed limit will be a major improvement.
"You have people who hit the brakes real fast when they reach the lower speed limit," he said. "It's just going to make things run a lot smoother. I think it will be safer."