Governor OK’s higher speed limit for Saddle Road

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HILO — Starting next year, Big Island drivers will be able to cross the Saddle a bit faster.

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HILO — Starting next year, Big Island drivers will be able to cross the Saddle a bit faster.

Gov. David Ige on Friday signed a bill that raises the speed limit on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, commonly called Saddle Road, from 55 mph to 60 mph.

The higher speed limit will begin at mile marker 12. It excludes a stretch of road starting at the Pohakuloa Training Area and ending a half-mile east of the Mauna Kea Recreation Area, where the limit will be 45 mph.

State Sen. Lorraine Inouye, who introduced the bill, said lawmakers gave the state Department of Transportation some leeway — for example, it could choose to raise the speed before mile marker 12.

Inouye said any cost to make the speed switch will be “very minimal” and likely come from the DOT’s budget. The bill requires the speed change to occur by Jan. 1.

“We’re letting the DOT use its discretion as to how far it goes from point to point,” Inouye said. ” … It’s a highway with a lot of open space, and cars should be moving along.”

Inouye initially proposed a 65 mph speed limit, which would have made the Saddle faster than any other road in the state. Law enforcement cited safety concerns about a 65 mph speed. For example, many drivers speed excessively on the Saddle and the road sometimes features wildlife and fog.

Concerns prompted lawmakers to lower the proposed increase to 60 mph, matching its speed with two other roads in the state — both highways on Oahu.

Police Sgt. Christopher Gali said Tuesday safety concerns remain and the Hawaii Police Department will continue enforcing the speed limit. Last year, the department issued 2,219 speeding citations on the highway, nearly 700 more than in 2014.

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“If they go 60, I don’t see a problem, I don’t see an increase in collisions,” Gali said. “But the thing is, when they exceed the limit, that’s where we have problems. So we’re allowing them to go 60, and they go in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and that’s the problem.”

Inouye said she’s next hoping to address what she said is a growing amount of trash on Saddle Road. She said she plans to meet with DOT officials to discuss installing “No littering” signs.

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