Utah lawmakers endorse more 80 mph speeds

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/4/2014

On the heels of action one year ago at the Utah statehouse to authorize 80 mph speeds for all vehicles on more stretches of roadways, another effort headed to the governor would take faster speeds statewide.

“This is one of the funnest bills I get to run all year,” Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, told Senate lawmakers. He noted during floor discussion that in the five years since the change was implemented road safety has improved.

State law now authorizes 75 mph speeds for cars and trucks on interstates and other limited access roadways in rural areas. However, during the past few years a 5 mph boost has been authorized on about 380 miles of roadways.

In 2009 a stretch of Interstate 15 between Nephi and Cedar City was posted at 80 mph. A year ago, Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law a bill to expand the portion of I-15 where speeds can reach 80 mph. Faster speeds were also approved for stretches of Interstates 80 and 84.

Specifically, truckers and other drivers are authorized for faster travel from Brigham City to the Idaho border, on I-84 from Tremonton to the Idaho line, and along I-80 from Grantsville to the Nevada border.

The Senate voted 21-4 to send a bill to the governor, which would allow 80 mph speeds on rural stretches of interstates and limited-access highways throughout the state. In addition, highways in urban areas could have speeds increased from 65 mph to 70 mph or 75 mph. House lawmakers already approved HB80 on a 63-8 vote.

Engineering and safety studies would be required to be completed before any changes could be made.

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, said she would prefer to see the state strengthen seat belt laws before authorizing another round of speed increases.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, told lawmakers earlier that cars and trucks would continue to drive at or near the same speed they travel now. He said that 85 percent of drivers on test sections of I-15 posted at 80 mph since 2009 now drive 83 mph – up from 82 mph before the change.

“So far, we’re finding out that changing the number on the sign hasn’t changed people’s behavior. But we do have greater compliance with the speed limit.”

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