Virginia Department of Transportation Provides Clarity Regarding Ability of Certain Localities to Reduce Speed Limits Below 25mph

September 23, 2021

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has determined that HB1903 (Carr), which allows a locality to reduce speed limits in a residence or business district on streets within their boundaries to less than 25 mph (but not less than 15 MPH), does not apply to streets that are in the state highway system. Thus, it would appear that the effect of the new law would be to eliminate the requirement of an engineering study when localities seek to reduce speed limits in a business or residence district, for streets under their authority. VDOT does not believe that the new law provides a locality the authority to exercise this new provision on any highway in the state highway system.

The basis for VDOT’s position is as follows: As noted in § 46.2-1300, the authority provided to localities to pass ordinances setting speed limits etc. under § 46.2-1300 only applies where it does not conflict with other provisions of law under Title 46.2. Particularly, subsection A states: “The governing bodies of counties, cities, and towns may adopt ordinances not in conflict with the provisions of this title to regulate the operation of vehicles on the highways in such counties, cities, and towns localities.). Section § 46.2-878 gives the Commissioner of Highways (“Commissioner”) the authority to change speed limits on highways under the Commissioner’s jurisdiction, which includes the primary state highway system pursuant to §§ 33.2-310 and 33.2-317 and the virtually identical jurisdiction over secondary state highway system pursuant to Va. Code § 33.2-326. In particular, the language in § 46.2-878, which provides that the increased or decreased speed limits over highways under the control of the Commissioner of Highways shall be effective only when prescribed in writing by the Commissioner.

Thus, VDOT would interpret the new law to apply only to roads or highways under the locality’s jurisdiction/authority as any interpretation that would apply the new law to roads under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Highways/VDOT would be an interpretation of the new law that is in conflict with the provisions of, and authority of the Commissioner under, § 46.2-878.

VACo testified in support of HB 1903 during the 2021 General Assembly session and continues to support the expansion of authority and discretion of Resident Administrators of VDOT to approve modifications to design standards where appropriate with local needs, including reduction of speed limits.

VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett

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