October 7, 2003
By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst
You asked how speed limits on public roads are determined and whether they are reviewed periodically based on road improvements. You also want to know how an individual can get the speed limit changed.
ESTABLISHMENT OF SPEED LIMITS
The State Traffic Commission (STC), which is in the Department of Transportation (DOT), is responsible for setting regulatory speed limits on state highways and bridges or parkways built or maintained by the state. A town’s legal traffic authority (LTA) may establish speed limits on streets, highways, on bridges or parking area for 10 or more cars, and on private roads wholly within the town’s jurisdiction. The latter limits must be approved by the commission in writing. By law, the commission must establish a 65-mph limit on multiple lane, limited access highways that are suitable for this speed, taking into consideration relevant factors such as design, population of area, and traffic flow (CGS § 14-218a).
In establishing speed limits, STC relies on engineering investigations conducted by DOT’s Division of Traffic Engineering, which considers:
1. road type and surface (curve, hill, etc. );
2. location and type of access points (intersections, entrances, etc. );
3. existing traffic control devices (signs, signals, etc. );
4. accident history;
5. traffic volume;
6. sight distances;
7. radar observations (which involves performing radar checks at selected locations on the roadway under ideal driving conditions); and
8. results of test drive conducted by the Division of Traffic Engineering.
There is no automatic review of speed limits in response to road improvements. STC and LTAs make decisions on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration several factors, including the nature and extent of the improvements.
CHANGING SPEED LIMITS
A person who wants to get a road’s speed limit changed must contact the LTA for the town where the road is located. In some towns, the LTA is the police chief or first selectman; in others, it may be a professional traffic engineer.
The LTA forwards legitimate requests to the STC, and the Division of Traffic Engineering conducts an investigation on STC’s behalf. After conducting its investigation, the division submits a report to STC recommending that it deny or approve the request. STC acts on the matter at one of its monthly meetings, which are open to LTAs and the public for comments. The commission may vote to have the matter reviewed further, or it may override the recommendation submitted by the division.
STC consists of the Motor Vehicles, Public Safety, and Transportation commissioners. It convenes on the third Tuesday of each month at the DOT complex in Newington.