ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Interstate 70 through Belmont County has seen an increase in the speed limit from 65 to 70 mph. State and county officials are making ready for higher speeds at an already high-volume transit.
Lt. Anne Ralston, Highway Patrol spokesperson at the Columbus office, noted that Interstate 70 is one of the most traveled roads in the state of Ohio through the east to west border. The roadway is used by both Ohians and cars traveling through the state, including many commercial vehicles.
"The Ohio State Highway Patrol's mission and enforcement hasn't changed. We're just enforcing at 70 miles per hour rather than 65," she said, adding that officers will continue their policy of highly visible monitoring.
Ralston added that time will tell the long-term results of the speed limit increase. She noted that motorists are advised to drive within the law and within their abilities and keep a comfortable and manageable speed. Drivers are also encouraged to reduce speeds during poor road conditions.
Chief Deputy William Artrip of the Belmont County Sheriff's Office added that some in the sheriff's office are concerned that the increased speed limit will lead to more crashes.
In terms of drug trafficking, Ralston said illicit substances are transported on major roadways all through Ohio.
"We have an increased emphasis on drug interdiction," she said, adding that the program has been ongoing for 2.5 years, with increased total arrests for 2011, 2012 and the trend is continuing in 2013.
"Drug arrests are on-par with last year," she said, noting 41 arrests last year to this year's 44 by the Belmont County post.
In terms of drugs seized in Southeastern Ohio, Ralston said the majority is marijuana, methamphetamines cocaine,and prescription pills.
"We try to take time to talk to everyone we stop, and look beyond the reason for stopping them and look for criminal activity," she said.
Artrip said the department has not seen a dramatic increase in drug trafficking arrests, but the issue is still one they keep in mind when patrolling state routes, county roads and rural areas.
"Whenever we make a traffic stop we try to look for drug trafficking and drug user signs," he said. "There hasn't been a marked increase in that lately as far as discovery or seizure."
According to ODOT's District 11 office, the volume of daily traffic through the area is at a low of 27,010 at the Guernsey County line and a high of up to 40,040 at the US 40 Interchange.
According to Ohio Department Spokesperson Steve Faulkner, ODOT's budget is separate from the state's budget and the department is funded differently, through state and federal motor fuel taxes.
When the governor signed the transportation budget April 1, ODOT had 90 days to consider the speed limit increases. Legislation designated areas were the speed limit would increase as outside urbanized areas.
"We followed the state law and followed census data that described urban areas," Faulkner said. "We used some subjectivity to see where it would be acceptable and where it would not."
He noted that in one case, the speed limit was set at 55 miles per hour through Zanesville due to the population.
"Interstates are built to facilitate all kinds of traffic," he said. "We have to follow state law, and state law mandated we increase speed limits on interstates outside urbanized areas and that's what we did."
DeFrank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org