Route 17. A DOT report said lowering the
speed would not make the highway safer.
Lowering the speed limit on Route 17 would not make the highway safer, according to an internal state Department of Transportation report.
In fact, reducing the limit from 65 mph to 55 mph could reduce safety on the stretch of highway between the Town of Wallkill to the New York State Thruway.
“If (the speed limit) was lowered, it might be more dangerous,” said Josh Ribakove, a DOT spokesman.
The DOT study found that a majority of Route 17 drivers were traveling at nearly 75 mph or less.
What makes lowering the speed particularly unsafe is that many drivers would not stop driving near 75 mph while others could be driving 20 mph less, the report concluded.
“It would make it dangerous for people driving the (55 mph) speed limit,” said Ribakove.
The east-west stretch of road in question was the scene of two high-profile fatal accidents since October. After a Manhattan couple were killed when an SUV shot across the grassy median and struck their car head-on, the DOT sped up plans to install median barriers.
At the same time, the department said in a news release at the time, it would evaluate “the feasibility of lowering the speed limit to 55 mph, which will happen if engineering data supports the change.”
The speed reduction study, prepared for the agency’s legal department and not publicly released, was conducted in December by the agency’s traffic and safety engineers. The report, Ribakove said, might be used by the agency’s legal department to address legal claims that the speed limit should be lowered.
A copy of the report and further details were unavailable because the issue, Ribakove said, was “sensitive.”
A road engineering principle known informally as the “85th percentile rule” sets a safe and efficient theoretical speed limit given what speed 85 percent of cars are traveling.
Many agencies use the rule as one of several basic factors in setting speed limits.
In the case of the DOT study, the 85th percentile speed on Route 17 is 74.33 mph. The maximum speed allowed in New York state is 65 mph.
“The 85th percentile speed basically represents a speed that is self-enforcing,” said Lynne Irwin, professor of highway engineering at Cornell University. “People driving that road have decided that the reasonable and proper speed to drive is 75 mph.”
New York raised the speed limit on roughly 1,000 miles of road to 65 mph in 1995. At the time, officials claimed more than 90 percent of drivers were going faster than the statewide 55 mph speed limit. The speed limit on Route 17 was raised in 2004.