Signs Posted to Lower Truck Speeds to 55 mph on I-81 and I-26 in Sullivan County

Sunday, February 04, 2007 | 06:00pm

Knoxville, Tenn. – At the request of the Sullivan County Commission the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) is posting new speed limit signs for motorists traveling on Interstate 81 and Interstate 26 in Sullivan County. The new signs will display a reduced speed limit for commercial trucks, taking the speed limit to 55 mph from 70 mph. The speed limit for other vehicles will also be reduced to 65 mph instead of 70 mph. Installation of the new speed limit signs will begin on Monday, February 5th weather permitting.

Endorsed by the Kingsport Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the Sullivan County Commission made the request for the speed reduction with the intent of reducing vehicle emissions, thereby improving air quality, with the goal of bringing Sullivan County into attainment with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) federal air quality health standard for ozone. Sullivan County and portions of the East Tennessee Valley are currently categorized by the EPA as non-attainment areas.

“County governments are looking at ways to improve air quality to meet EPA standards,” said TDOT Chief of Environment and Planning Ed Cole. “A study conducted by the Federal Highway Administration shows that reducing truck speed limits by 10 miles per hour can reduce the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission factor by approximately 18% or more per truck. If we get reductions anywhere close to that level it will be worth it.”

“According to studies by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Air Pollution Control, reduction of interstate truck speed limits is among the most effective measures we can take to assure the Tri-Cities attains and maintains attainment with the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ground-level ozone,” said Bill Sorah, Chairman of the Ozone Action Partnership for Northeast Tennessee. “This action fits in with our Early Action Compact with EPA which has allowed our counties to avoid classification as non-attainment. Non-attainment is a label we want to avoid. Not only would it mean our air quality does not meet the standards, but it would also create an impediment to economic development.”

There are 18 speed limit signs being installed along with several other signs showing “reduced speed ahead” will also be posted. The speed reduction area will begin along I-81 at the Washington - Sullivan County line and continue to the Tennessee – Virginia state line for a total of 22.1 miles.

The speed reduction area will also include I-26 beginning at the entrance to I-26 near the Tennessee – Virginia border, which includes a 2.5 mile portion of State Route 137 (US 23) that is part of the controlled access highway at the start of I-26, to the Sullivan - Washington County line for a total of 12.5 miles.

“We are urging motorists to pay close attention to the speed limit changes,” said Captain Dean Hurley, Tennessee Highway Patrol. “There will be a natural period of adjustment as drivers become accustomed to the lower speeds.”

The Tennessee Highway Patrol will be issuing warnings rather than citations the first two weeks the new speed limits are in effect in order to allow motorists time to adjust to the reduced speeds.

A Federal Highway Administration analysis of reduced truck speeds and its effects on emission rates can be found in the TDOT media room at

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