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House Bill Could Mean Higher Speed Limits

Utah Department of Transportation


The Utah House has passed a bill that could mean higher speed limits on more of Utah’s interstate highways.

Close to 400 miles of Utah’s highways already allow drivers to go 80 mph. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, says more areas of interstate freeway should be considered for higher speeds. His bill would allow the Utah Department of Transportation to study divided highways where it might make sense to let drivers go faster. He says the Utah Division of Air Quality told him that faster driving does not lead to more pollution.

“There is no detectible impact to the overall emissions,” he says, “from a five or ten miles per hour increase in speed.”

Dunnigan concedes there have been traffic deaths in the four test areas that the Utah Department of Transportation has examined over the past five years. But he says the higher speed limit is not to blame for those fatalities.

“In those areas where we’ve posted 80 miles per hour, can any of those be attributed to the increase in posted speed limits,” he said on the House floor?" he said on the House floor. "According to the data and according to UDOT, the answer is no.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Redd, R- Logan, worries that “speed creep” will mean more deaths.

“I would hope the that the highway patrol and other people that are responsible for enforcement of the speed limit will make sure that we don’t keep creeping upward,” says Redd, a doctor, “because kinetic energy is part of the equation when people die.”

Utah has 935 miles of interstate highways. UDOT officials will conduct engineering and safety studies before allowing higher speed limits on any other sections of Utah interstates. The Senate takes up the bill next.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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