Oregon bills limit left lane driving, end HOV lane use, alter speeds

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Travel in the left lane on Oregon highways could soon be restricted for all vehicles. Other issues getting attention at the statehouse include bills covering local speed control, a Portland carpool lane, and posted speeds along U.S. 97.

Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, is again pursuing a change at the statehouse to make the left lane off limits for everything except passing.

Truckers already are prohibited from using the far left lane but Burdick thinks that restrictions should be in place for all vehicles that may impede traffic.

SB532 would set left lane restrictions for all vehicles on state highways and interstates with speeds of at least 55 mph.

Violators would face $250 fines.

Supporters, including OOIDA and the National Motorists Association, say that blocking the left lane, whether intentional or not, results in reduced road safety and efficiency.

In addition to overtaking and passing other vehicles, exceptions to the proposed rule would also include preparing to turn left; to avoid vehicles merging onto the roadway; and when the flow of traffic is moving slower than the normal flow of traffic.

Burdick co-sponsored a bill two years ago to set the same left-lane use rules, but the measure came up just shy of the votes needed to send it to the governor’s desk after the bill was amended to include the 55 mph threshold.

She has said if the left lane is used exclusively for passing, the roads will be safer and all drivers will be less frustrated.

The bill awaits consideration in the Senate Business and Transportation Committee.

A separate bill addresses local speed limit control. Specifically, HB2682 would give cities the authority to reduce speeds on state-owned roadways within city limits.

Oregon law now provides nearly complete oversight of speed limits to the state Department of Transportation.

Sponsored by Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, the bill would allow cities and counties to establish speed limits on locally controlled roads without first getting approval from ODOT.

Another bill from Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, covers use of the carpool lane on northbound Interstate 5 in Portland. The lane has been in use for nearly 20 years.

HB2440 would no longer allow the state DOT to restrict the use of any lane on the interstate just south of the Washington line based on the number of occupants inside vehicles.

Bill advocates say travelers would be better served if all vehicles could access it during peak travel.

Opponents say the HOV lanes are working well in the area. They say the rule encourages people not to commute alone and instead share rides.

One more House bill would revise speeds along a stretch of highway in northern Oregon.

On state and U.S. highways in Oregon, cars and trucks are permitted to travel 55 mph. However, since early 2016 eight highways in central and eastern Oregon have permitted cars to travel 65 mph while trucks can go 60 mph.

One of the eight affected highways is U.S. 97. The higher speeds are posted along its intersection with U.S. 197 to the California line. Two segments of U.S. 97 totaling 17.5 miles, however, remain posted at 55 mph for all vehicles.

Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, is behind a bill to extend from the intersection with U.S. 197 to the Washington line the length of U.S. 97 posted at 65 mph for cars and 60 mph for trucks.

The House bills are in the House Transportation Policy Committee.

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

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