Lawmaker hopes to expand 80 mph on Utah highways

SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker wants to accelerate the expansion of 80-mph zones on Utah highways.

Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville is crafting legislation for the upcoming session that would allow Utah’s transportation department to decide on which sections of highway to increase speed limits.

If it passes, the speed limits could be raised as soon as this summer, Dunnigan told the Deseret News. The legislative session kicks off Jan. 27.

Utah already has several stretches of highway, mostly in rural areas, where the speed limit has been raised to 80 mph. The Legislature approved several new, faster zones during the 2013 session.

The new permanent fast zones include Interstate 80 from the Nevada border to Utah Route 36 in eastern Utah, and Interstate 15 from north of Brigham City to the Idaho border in northern Utah.

Speeds will also be increased on I-15 between Santaquin and North Leeds in central-southern Utah. The 75 mph zones remain on that stretch through two mountain passes and Cedar City.

Those areas have not seen an increase in crashes or fatalities, Dunnigan said.

A Department of Transportation study based on three years of data from experimental stretches of Utah highways with 80 mph speed limits concluded that fewer crashes occurred because drivers were traveling at similar speeds, decreasing the danger when lead-footers come up on slower drivers.

“We have not seen an increase in crashes, (and) we have not seen an increase in fatalities,” Dunnigan told the Deseret News. “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.”

None of the 80 mph zones are within the heavily populated Wasatch Front, a string of cities from Brigham City on the north to Santaquin on the south that is home to nearly two-thirds of Utah’s 2.8 million residents.

Dunnigan said he thinks a few stretches of I-215 and I-15 in the Wasatch Front would be good candidates for the speed-limit increases. He also believes Interstate 70 in eastern Utah from Green River to the Colorado border makes sense for 80-mph speed limits.

Before passing the legislation last year, Dunnigan made sure Utah wouldn’t lose federal funding after staking its 80-mph signs.

Utah isn’t the only state with speed limits surpassing 75 mph. Texas has some, including a toll road with a speed limit of 85 mph.

Robert Hull, traffic and safety director for Utah Department of Transportation, told the Deseret News that his agency will carefully review accident statistics for highways before making any decisions.

“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 said.



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