Oregon speed changes weeks away, more changes pending

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/8/2016

Speed changes along certain rural stretches of Oregon highway are weeks away from taking effect. An effort underway at the statehouse would include two more segments of highway in the upcoming changes while maintaining a speed differential between cars and trucks.

Oregon law now authorizes motorists to drive 65 mph on affected stretches of interstate. Large trucks, however, are kept slower at 55 mph. On state and U.S. highways, cars and trucks are permitted to travel 55 mph.

Starting March 1, a new law set to take effect will increase the speed limit for personal vehicles and trucks on rural sections of central and eastern Oregon highways.

On Interstate 84 east of The Dalles, the speed limit for motorists will increase to 70 mph while the truck speed will be raised to 65 mph. Speed limits on U.S. 95 between the Idaho and Nevada lines will also be raised to 70 mph for cars and 65 mph for trucks. 

Along U.S. 20 between Bend and Ontario and on state Highway 26 between John Day and Vale, speeds will be increased to 65 mph for motorists and 60 mph for trucks. On U.S. 97 and state Highway 197 between The Dalles and Klamath Falls, the speed limits will also be raised to 65 mph for motorists and 60 mph for trucks.

The speed limits on state Highway 78 between Burns Junction and Burns, and on state Highway 395 between Burns and John Day, as well as state Highway 205 between Burns and Frenchglen will be increased to 65 mph for cars and 60 mph for trucks.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is expected to post signage changes along I-84 on March 1. Signage along other affected roadways should be in place shortly thereafter.

As the changeover date nears, another piece of legislation moving through the Oregon House would include two more stretches of roadway.

The House Transportation and Economic Development Committee voted unanimously last week to advance one bill to increase speeds along a 15-mile segment of U.S. 97 from Klamath Falls to the California border, and along a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 82 from I-84 to the Washington line.

Advocates say the changes would bring the two short segments of eastern Oregon highways into alignment with speeds on adjacent highways.

Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, added that another benefit to increasing speeds for all vehicles would be the ability to move containers more quickly into and out of the ports.

“We all know when freight moves, commerce is good,” responded Chairperson Caddy McKeowin, D-Coos Bay. “It benefits us from border to border.”

Paul Mather, administrator of ODOT’s Highway Division, reiterated from a year ago the agency’s concerns about faster speeds. However, Mather provided testimony last week about how differences in speeds could cause confusion or safety issues for drivers.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association advocates for uniform speeds for cars and trucks.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA’s director of state legislative affairs, has said that roadways are safer when all vehicles are permitted to travel at the same rate of speed.

“Differential speed limits create more interactions between cars and trucks, which can lead to an increase in the number and severity of accidents. They are also a contributing factor to increased congestion, carbon emissions, and increased inefficiencies with local, regional, and national goods movement.”

The 2016 bill, HB4047, awaits a House floor vote. If approved there, it would move to the Senate before heading to the governor’s desk.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Oregon, click here.

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