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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Motorists travel on I-80 in Salt Lake County Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. A new speed limit set of 70 mph is expected to take effect in December on freeways along the Wasatch Front.
The fact is, people don't necessarily drive what's posted on the speed limit signs. Data shows people are comfortable driving 70 mph, and in some cases higher. But, we're comfortable and posting (freeway speeds) at 70 mph. —Jason Davis, Utah Department of Transportation director of operations

SALT LAKE CITY — The freeway speeds along the Wasatch Front are changing, moving from 65 MPH to 70 mph, transportation officials announced Friday morning.

But the move does not have the support of the Utah Highway Patrol.

“Highway Patrol is against it, and the reason why is … Highway Patrol (is) showing we handled 20 percent more fatalities this year than last year, and our feeling’s that if the fatality rates are increasing, that speed limits should not increase,” said Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Royce.

Speed limit decisions lie solely with the Utah Department of Transportation, and its officials say they are adjusting limits to match existing speeds.

"The fact is, people don't necessarily drive what's posted on the speed limit signs," said Jason Davis, Utah Department of Transportation director of operations. He said drivers cruise at speeds comfortable to them.

"Data shows people are comfortable driving 70 mph, and in some cases higher. But, we're comfortable and posting (freeway speeds) at 70 mph."

This is the case for Salt Lake resident Travis Turner, who estimates his speeds on state interstates to be around "75-ish" mph.

"People are already going at those speeds and this will just make it, like, more acceptable. So I don't think it's going to have any impact at all on the safety of the roads as it will just … (save) people a little money," he said.

UDOT officials are meeting with the transportation commission and local government, but are prepared to move forward with a change to the speed limits after reviewing data and crash safety analyses and using what Davis called "sound engineering judgment."

Speeds will change on I-15 from Spanish Fork to Ogden, on all of I-215, and on I-80 from about 5600 West to 1300 East in Sugar House.

Some motorists are concerned the overall speed of traffic will increase, along with crashes and pileups.

"It's fine where it's at. People just need to control the speed they're at," said Doug Gorney, a professional truck driver. "I think they need to leave it where it's at."

Royce said he was concerned because "increased speeds increase the severity and the chances of a fatality," and said faster speed limits "would be against our goal of zero fatalities," especially without a primary seat belt law in the state.

UDOT officials said they respect UHP's position and passion for safety. Department of transportation officials have met regularly with the highway patrol throughout the decision process. But UDOT does not think upping the posted speed limit will lead to faster traffic speeds overall. UDOT officials are comfortable with their data analyses and think 70 mph is an appropriate speed.

UDOT officials looked at crash data and found most accidents occur either because a person is driving excessively over the speed limit or driving too quickly for weather conditions.

"Our analysis shows that it's not the speed limit that's affecting these crashes, it's drivers' behavior based on the conditions," Davis said.

Although a sign may say read "70 mph," ice, snow and other weather may dictate a slower speed.

"Just because it's posted at a certain speed, people need to drive for what the conditions are dictating," Davis said.

Changes to speed limits are expected to take effect before the beginning of the year, likely in December.

Utah has increased posted speed limits to 80 mph on nearly 380 miles of freeway during the past five years and noted no increase in traffic fatalities due to the increase in speed. Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, sponsored HB80 during the past legislative session which was signed by the governor and allows for increased speed limits in urban areas.

Contributing: Jed Boal

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