Speed Limit on Rt 3

Hi Will – I was up visiting my parents in Nashua and it struck me that Rt 3 is still posted at 55 MPH. According to the studies that were done during construction it’s a 65 MPH road. Several years ago, I remember a GLOBE article abotu this in which  it was indicated that “as soon as the construction was complete” the road would be reposted ot the legal limit. The road’s been done for several years and there’s no sign of new signage (no pun intended). In the past we would have lost Federal highway funds for failing to repost the road in a reasonable amount of time. What gives?

12 replies on “Speed Limit on Rt 3”

  1. Rich,

    They don’t want to raise the speed limit because Mass residents will be able to get to the (TAX FREE)NH Border faster to do their shopping. They also want to slow the exodus of the middle class from this state.

  2. Here is what we have been able to piece together.

    You are correct that the design studies indicated that 65 mph should be a safe speed.

    Apparently when the time came to post the speed higher, the state police opposed it and felt they could not enforce the higher limit (without additional patrol resources) and that people would actually end up driving at higher unsafe speeds. Around the time the issue was pending, there were two fatal accidents on the road and MassHighway decided not to push it.

    We have not heard any threat of loss of highway funding in this context.

  3. Note – I referenced the loss of highway funding “in the past” — this actually went away when the federal government ceded the rights back to the states to set speed limits back in the 90’s. I was referring to the “good-old, bad-old days” of the double nickel in this conetex, sorry I was not clear.

    More to the point….

    Hmmm.. It seems to make little sense that if the police already cannot enforce a 55 MPH speed limit, that they cannot enforce a 65 MPH speed limit which would actually result in LESS work for them (?) And they would need MORE money to do LESS work?

    Am I missing a point here?

    Let’s not subvert sound engineering for the uninformed opinion of the budget-strapped State Police. We pay them to Police, not engineer.

    It’s time to follow the lead of states like Michigan, where state law requires limits to be posted in accordace with sound engineering principles, not based on political whims.

    Please review http://www.michigan.gov/documents/Establishing_Realistic_Speedlimits_85625_7.pdf

    I’ll provide a brief quote here as well (Michigan DOT speaking):

    “Contrary to popular belief, lower speed limits do not nec-
    essarily improve safety. The more uniform the speeds of
    vehicles in a traffic stream, the less chance there is for con-
    flict and crashes. Posting speed limits lower or higher than
    what the majority of drivers are traveling produces two dis-
    tinct groups of drivers: those attempting to observe the
    speed limit and those driving at a speed they feel is reason-
    able and prudent. These differences in speeds can result in
    increased crashes due to tailgating, improper passing, reck-
    less driving, and weaving from lane to lane. However, the
    number of traffic crashes along any highway is related to
    numerous factors.”

    So… as odd as it seems, a lower speed limit is actually a deterrent to safety, not an adjunct. Perhaps we have an explanation fo rhte “fatal crashes” you mention.

    The document continues:

    “Investigations of crashes reveal that in the majority of cases
    there was a clear violation of a traffic law or rule of good driv-
    ing. A review of crash experience is an important component
    of any analysis of speed limits. Proper analysis and evaluation
    of these factors require the experience and expertise of the
    traffic survey team.
    Studies have been conducted over the years to relate crash-
    es to speed. Based on these studies and as illustrated in the
    graph, the lowest risk of being involved in a crash occurs at
    approximately the 85th percentile speed.”

    I would like us to follow the example of Michigan and require, by law, that all roads be posted with a safe limit, determined by egineering standards, rather than by uninformed opinion that, qite frankly, sounds simply like a political maneuver to get better funding for the department in question.

    How do we achive this new, enhanced level of safety?

    1. I think the state police argument is that they aren’t patrolling it as much as they would like even now and feel that the lower speed limit holds things down a bit. At a higher limit, the people who tend to push at speed-limit-plus-ten will be going too fast.

      You make some good points about safety dynamics though.

      To make a push to increase the limit on Route 3, I think the political weight would have to come from reps in commuting districts. It’s not a cause that I would have particular standing on, coming from Belmont.

  4. Thanks Will, I understand, the Rt 3. issue is more of a “Local thing”. Clearly in a congested corridor like the Northeast, it’s even more critical to insure adherence to proper engineering standards and make the roads safer for all of us. From a more comprehensive standpoint, how would one go about proposing a safety act similar to Michigan’s Act No 85?

  5. Hi Will – it’s December!
    I know you don’t wan tto talke the “Rt 3” issue, but I’m still interested in the overall “safety of roads in the commonwealth” issue. Can you advise as to how a citizen (such as myself) can introduce legislation similar to Michagan’s excellent Act No 85?

  6. Please read this 2005 Massachusetts Highway Department Interoffice Memorandum. After six years of bureaucratic foot-dragging, there is a legislative remedy. A bill has been introduced by Representative Sean Garballey (H-914) and Senator Kenneth Donnelly (S-1734) to add Route 3 to the list of legislatively-mandated 65 mile per hour zones. Given the state bureaucracy’s refusal to follow its own procedures for setting a speed limit on Route 3, this legislative action is necessary to allow safe and reasonable drivers to conform to a more reasonable speed law.


    TO: John Blundo, P.E., Chief Engineer
    THROUGH: Neil E. Boudreau, Assistant Traffic Engineer
    FROM: Richard F. Wilson, Regulations Engineer
    DATE: October 31, 2005
    SUBJECT: Speed Zoning – Route 3 – Burlington to Tyngsborough

    This memorandum is relative to the results of the recent and ongoing speed limit study conducted by the Boston Office Speed Zoning section the newly reconstructed Route 3 from Burlington to Tyngsborough. The existing posted speed limit (55 MPH) on the subject section of State Highway reflects conditions prior to the aforementioned reconstruction and subsequently is not in conformance with MassHighway’s Speed Zoning Manual. We are hereby proposing that the speed limit on this highway should be changed to 65 miles per hour for the following reasons:

    • The 85th percentile on the main line of the roadway ranges between 73 to 76 MPH. The posted speed limit is 55 MPH and is obviously being routinely ignored by motorists.
    • At present, approximately 98% of motorists are traveling at speeds in excess of 55 MPH, despite the presence of enforcement activity throughout. This creates a situation where the state police must decide what they think is an appropriate speed limit. A 65 MPH limit will aide enforcement by eliminating motorists traveling at a more appropriate and realistic speeds from consideration (65 and below) and allows them to focus on the high-end violators
    • Trial Runs in both the northbound and southbound direction were conducted at 65 MPH in the right hand travel lane, and only one vehicle was passed in each direction on the entire twenty-mile stretch of Route 3.
    • A 65 MPH speed limit may also serve to increase the speed of a large percentage of motorists presently traveling at a speed lower than 65 MPH, thereby decreasing the speed differential, which in turn will reduce conflict and make the roadway safer.
    • Although the 85th percentiles on the CD (collector and distributor) roads at the junction with I-495 and Route 110 were 68 MPH, it is recommended that these sections of highway be posted at no higher than 55 MPH, due to the proximities of the entrance and egress ramps to I-495 and Route 110 and constant lane change activity experienced in this area.
    • Attached are the Speed Determination Sheets and a map detailing the locations and results of the speed study

    If more information is desired, please advise.

  7. Speed limits are arbitrary and do not save lives. Speed variability is what causes problems. Car technology and safety have come a long way. It’s time to set limits in accordance with science and the ever decreasing highway fatality rate. The biggest threat today is distracted driving, which technology will also overcome eventually.

    1. In complete agreement Geoff!
      Especially when the state’s own experts are in agreement as well. Let’s trust the engineers and make Rt 3 safer for everyone! The Police already have enough places to fill their ticket quotas, they don’t need Rt 3 too.


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