Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker is planning to introduce legislation that would allow for higher speed limits on more Utah highways.
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, is drafting a bill that would give the Utah Department of Transportation the flexibility to determine whether some freeways and highways are be eligible for increased speed limits, including 80 mph in some areas.
Dunnigan said the measure will be submitted for consideration during the 2014 Legislature, which gets underway Jan. 27.
“I certainly hope the legislation will pass,” said Dunnigan, speaking Monday on KSL NewsRadio's "The Doug Wright Show." "If it passes, then we will look at the rest of the interstate system to see which areas might accommodate a (higher) speed limit.”
If the bill becomes a law, he predicts that drivers could be able to travel faster on additional sections of Utah highways by this summer.
Dunnigan said portions of I-70 from Green River east to the Colorado border would be of particular interest for higher limits, along with I-15 and I-215 in some urban areas along the Wasatch Front.
He noted that UDOT began studying about five years ago to determine whether drivers could benefit from increased limits in some long stretches of relatively straight roadways in mostly rural areas. Since then, data have shown that safety isn’t necessarily compromised just because vehicles are moving faster.
“We have not seen an increase in crashes, (and) we have not seen an increase in fatalities,” Dunnigan said. "The data showed that if you wanted to decrease injuries and fatalities, then wear your seat belt, which was the most common determining factor in a crash.”
Last year, UDOT crews installed 80 mph speed limit signs on freeway sections on I-80 from the Nevada border to state Route 36; I-15 between Leeds and Santaquin, with sections of 75 mph zones through two mountain passes and Cedar City; and I-15 and I-84 from the Brigham City north interchange to the Idaho border.
The speed limit increase was the result of HB83, passed during the 2013 Legislature, which allowed UDOT to study and establish speed limits higher than 75 mph on some interstates.
UDOT’s data from speed studies of existing 80 mph zones shows that vehicle crashes have slightly dropped over the past three years, attributed to more vehicles traveling at the same speeds and less variation in the speed of surrounding vehicles.
Robert Hull, UDOT traffic and safety director, said before any new speed limit increases are seriously considered, the agency would have to carefully review crash data to decide the best course of action.
“The best way to go about looking at this is to see what the engineering studies are showing by looking at the crash data,” Hull explained.
Statutorily, speeds are capped at 75 mph on rural highways and 65 mph on urban interstates, he said. Bills passed in previous years have allowed for exceptions where higher limits could be permitted if extensive study indicated safety would not be compromised, Hull added.
“The key element is going through the process of focusing on the engineering studies and allowing the data to determine the best way rather than arbitrarily setting limits,” he said.
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