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Maine bill would raise I-295 speed li

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s Transportation Department would get the authority to raise the speed limit on Interstate 295 to 75 miles per hour from Scarborough to West Gardiner if a bill reviewed by state lawmakers Friday becomes law.

The bill’s sponsor — Representative Justin Chenette, Democrat of Saco — told the Transportation Committee that no speed limit would change automatically and that he is open to altering his bill to give the transportation commissioner the authority to set specific limits for the entire length of the inter­state in Maine, up to 75 miles per hour.

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Chenette said a number of factors would go into determining whether to raise or lower a speed ­limit, such as how congested an area is, and the number of onramps.

‘‘The intent isn’t to simply hand over power to the commissioner and sit and forget it,’’ Chenette said in his testimony to the Transportation Committee. “There will not be arbitrary speed increases without proper vetting.”

The speed limit for most of the 50-mile Scarborough to West Gardiner stretch, with exceptions in the Portland area, is 65 miles per hour. AAA Northern New England said that top speed is sufficient.

‘‘At the current maximum speed limit, this corridor experiences significant congestion and is a safety concern,’’ AAA’s Pat Moody said in testimony opposing Chenette’s bill. ‘‘Raising the limit would adverse­ly affect highway safety for the motorists of Maine.’’

In 2011, the Legislature passed a law allowing the commissioner to set speed limits up to 75 miles per hour on Interstate 95 from Old Town to Houlton in the more remote section in northern Maine. That higher limit has been implemented.

Nina Fisher, a Transportation Department manager, told the committee she agrees that the transportation commissioner should be allowed to set speeds for all interstates in Maine. Such authority would probably eliminate a patchwork of various speeds that may not be tied to a specific need or supported by science.

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