I remember when the speed limit was reduced to 55 mph. It was the worst day I recall in the history of my work. Some vehicles would go 55 mph, and others 65, 75 and even 80 mph. There were more incidents because traffic wasn't traveling at the same speed. —Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy
SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers in the House overwhelmingly approved a bill Wednesday to increase the speed drivers can travel on certain stretches of Utah freeways.
HB83, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, would expand the portion of I-15 where the Utah Department of Transportation may raise a posted speed limit from 75 mph to 80 mph. It also allows for speed limit increases on portions of I-80 and I-84.
The bill passed the House with a 69-5 vote and now moves to the Senate. If approved, the new speed limits would be posted by July 2014.
"Engineering analysis says the best speed limit is the natural flow of traffic," Dunnigan said. "The majority of people drive at their comfort level, and this will allow them to do it efficiently and legally."
Data show that average speeds on freeways have risen 1 mph over the past four years, from 82 mph to 83 mph, he said.
"Fatalities are the lowest they've ever been, yet we have more people driving," Dunnigan said. "In fact, accident tests show a 1 percent decrease over the past year."
Areas of consideration on I-15 include Santaquin to St. George and Brigham City to the Idaho border. Also under review is I-84 from Tremonton to the Idaho border, along with Grantsville to Wendover on I-80.
"We would only change areas of the road that we feel are geometrically designed to handle higher speeds," Dunnigan said. "No curves or inclines will change."
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, voiced his concern about the potential impact of higher speeds on air quality.
"My wife has asthma," Briscoe said. "She says that dirty air is like a 10-pound weight on her chest. What confidence can you give me that 80 mph will make for cleaner air?"
Dunnigan noted that the wide-open spaces of Utah are often away from urban areas. He also said there's little difference in the pollution newer vehicles exude between 55 mph and 80 mph.
Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, a former police officer, spoke in support of the bill.
"I remember when the speed limit was reduced to 55 mph. It was the worst day I recall in the history of my work," Greenwood said. "Some vehicles would go 55 mph, and others 65, 75 and even 80 mph. There were more incidents because traffic wasn't traveling at the same speed."