The Outside Prognosticator: Montanabahn

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Outside magazine, January 1996

The Outside Prognosticator: Montanabahn

I’ve been getting lots of calls from out-of-state folk who want to know if they really will be able to drive as fast as they want here,” says Major Bert Obert, a field forces commander for the Montana Highway Patrol. The answer, believe it or not, is probably “wheeeeee!” Thanks to a twist of legislative fate, Montana’s interstates and secondary roads could end up with no
official speed limit in 1996, a fact that should make the Midlife Crisis State as popular with leadfooters as it is with overly philosophical fly fishermen. If it happens, Montana’s burn-rubber status will be an unintended gift from President Clinton, who sometime this year is expected to sign a new federal highway act repealing the national speed limit, For the states, this means
a return to whatever major-byway limits were on the books in 1974. Montana didn’t have a numerical limit, so there’s nothing to revert to, and since the state legislature doesn’t meet in 1996, the situation should remain for a while. “From what we’re hearing,” says Mike Devries, manager of a Harley-Davidson dealership in Belgrade, Montana, “the lack of a speed limit will attract a
lot of bikers.”

As Montana prepares to rev up, a questions remains: Do Obert and his fellow officers expect to become the no-function Maytag repairmen of highway law enforcement? Grimly, no. “Most people don’t realize that everything happens much faster at 100,” says Obert matter-of-factly. “We’re just hoping the result won’t be a great deal of carnage.”

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