By Richard Sullins |

It’s better to read about it in the pages of The Rant than to find out from the flashing blue light of a patrol car that has you pulled over: the speed limit on U.S. 1 through Sanford has been lowered from 70 to 65 miles per hour.

North Carolina DOT crews made the change in March by installing new highway signs along the seven mile stretch that runs from just north of Tramway to Exit 71 along U.S. 1 at the intersection of U.S. 15-501.

Chuck Dumas, the engineer for DOT’s Division 8 that includes Lee County, said changes to the speed limits on roadways, particularly on major four lane thoroughfares like U.S. 1, are typically requested by a citizen or group of citizens, or in some cases by a municipality. The most commonly cited reason is safety and most of the requests received are to lower the speed limit.

Dumas said in this case, it was the city of Sanford that made the request to lower the speed limit on the section of U.S. 1 that crossed through the city from north to south. Dumas said his investigation determined the urban-type interchanges it contained within the city were shorter than the on and off ramps the highway contained in rural areas and as the amount of traffic continues to increase, the shorter ramps constitute a safety hazard at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.

Do slower speeds save lives? Even DOT doesn’t seem to be sure. A brochure on speed limits on their website suggests that it doesn’t always work like you think: “Crash records show that motorists driving too slow can create a safety hazard and cause crashes just as a motorist driving too fast can. If weather and traffic permit, motorists should always try to travel at the posted speed.”

The speed limit on the U.S. 421 bypass remains unchanged at 65 miles per hour, at least for the time being. In November 2021, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan federal infrastructure bill passed by Congress and contained within the bill is a provision that designates a portion of U.S. 421 between Winston-Salem and Dunn as a high priority corridor, clearing the way for its eventual designation as Interstate 685 and along with that, perhaps a higher speed limit.

North Carolina’s two Republican Senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, played key roles in clearing the way for the 120-mile section of roadway, part of the “Carolina Core,” to be included in the bill. Now, NC DOT officials will be able to petition the Federal Highway Administration to approve the designation and if all goes well, the signs proclaiming “Future I-685 Corridor” will start going up soon.

And speaking of changes, since news broke last week about VinFast, the Vietnamese electric vehicle company that will be building a new manufacturing plant in Moncure, rumors have covered the county like the pollen of spring that the traffic this facility will bring to U.S. 1 will turn the highway into the worst iteration of gridlock that can be imagined. But what has largely gone unsaid is that DOT will be spending millions of dollars to create a new cloverleaf at Exit 81 (Pea Ridge Road) that will be more than capable of keeping vehicles moving at the point on the four-lane where they will enter and exit the plant site.

Meanwhile, set your cruise control to 65 and drive with a little more caution on U.S. 1 as you make your way through Sanford. You’ll get a better chance to see the city, you and your loved ones will be just a little bit safer, and you won’t have to worry about making an unscheduled stop for a conversation with an officer of the law.