63 goes sixty

MnDOT sign crew workers, Loren Tews, left, and David Schneider replace a 55 mph sign with a 60 mph sign on Highway 63 outside of Lake City on Tuesday morning. (Ken Klotzbach/kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

U.S. HIGHWAY 63 — The pedal can go a little closer to the metal for folks driving between the Iowa border and Lake City.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation was busy Tuesday changing the speed limit signs on U.S. Highway 63 from 55 mph to 60 mph where the road is two lanes. 

"In 2014, the Minnesota Legislature directed MnDOT to evaluate its two-lane, two-way 55 mph highways to determine whether speed limits could be reasonably and safely increased on its 55 mph, two-lane segments," said MnDOT spokesman Mike Dougherty.

The study looked at two-lane highway segments where the speed limit was 55  mph and evaluated access points, shoulder width, roadway alignment, assessment of roadside hazards, crash rates and history, and an analysis of motorist speeds. Dougherty said the statewide study ended earlier this year, and the changes along Highway 63 are the implementation of that study's findings. 

Dougherty said MnDOT and traffic engineers feel that a "properly selected speed limit can increase the safety of the roadway by reducing the variation in actual vehicle operating speeds." Also, for drivers attempting to cross the highway at intersections, having a realistic expectation of the speed of cars on the highway creates a safer environment.

Fillmore County Sheriff John DeGeorge said a little faster speed limit on Highway 63 is probably warranted. 

"With Highway 63, I'm pretty indifferent on the change because the majority of people were probably already driving 60 (mph) on that road," DeGeorge said.

DeGeorge said the other highway that was already changed to 60 mph in Fillmore County — Minnesota Highway 43 between Mabel and Rushford – remains a bigger concern. 

"The state did these studies without asking for input from local officials," DeGeorge said. "Highway 43 is windy, the roadway is deteriorated and the shoulders are smaller."

That said, DeGeorge expects more highways after 43 and 63 to see their speed limits bumped up a bit.

The sections of Highway 63 that will be changed are the two-lane portions, which basically run from the Iowa border to Stewartville, where it expands to four lanes in town and remains four lanes, eventually following U.S. Highway 52 north through Rochester to 75th Street Northwest.

At 75th Street, it narrows back to two lanes heading east then north at a roundabout north of Rochester. The road then remains two lanes until a 1.4-mile section north of Zumbro Falls where it becomes four lanes then narrows back to two lanes again all the rest of the way to Lake City.

The four-lane sections of Highway 63 have other speed limits in place, and those will not change, according to a MnDOT statement. The new speed limits become official once the new signs are in place. 

The speed limit study and changes have been occurring since 2014 when the Minnesota Legislature directed MnDOT to evaluate its two-lane, two-way 55 mph highways.

Whether the sign says 55 or 60, DeGeorge said people will continue to drive at a speed where they feel comfortable. 

"It probably isn't going to change people's driving habits significantly," he said.

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