Utah House Votes to Expand 80 MPH Roads

Utah drivers can lay off the brakes.

The Utah House has approved a measure to expand 80 mph stretches of some rural Utah roads.

The House voted 69-5 Wednesday to pass the measure, which will hike the speed limit on flat, straight portions of Interstates 15, 80 and 84 on the outer edges of the state.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, reported that fewer car crashes occurred on roads with 80 mph speed limits and that drivers generally respected the new limit.

When the state first considered testing higher speed limits in southern Utah in 2008, lawmakers worried drivers would fly down the interstates at 90 or 100 mph. But “it just hasn’t happened,” Dunnigan said, adding that with the new speed limits, “perhaps they can focus on the road instead of looking in their rearview mirror.”

Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Salt Lake City, opposed the bill, saying she fears drivers would exceed the new speed limit and cause more accidents. “I do have concern about what I call the Utah creep,” she said, citing drivers’ tendency to drive five to 10 miles over the speed limit.

Doctors are urging the state to reduce its speed limits to curb pollution-induced asthma attacks.

Rep Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, said he worries about the effect of faster driving on people with asthma. “My son would like me to sponsor a bill turning the interstate system into the German autobahn,” he said. But Briscoe added that his wife has asthma and likens breathing dirty air to having a 20-pound weight on her chest.

Texas houses the nation’s fastest speed limit of 85 mph on its 130 toll road. Authorities introduced the 85 mph limit in October in an effort to ease traffic between Austin and San Antonio.

Spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation John Gleason said the department is confident that the state can raise the speed limit to 80 mph without losing federal highway dollars. Dunnigan, the bill’s sponsor, said Utah officials checked to make sure that Texas had not lost federal funding after staking its 85 mph signs.

The Utah bill now goes to the Senate for approval and must be signed by the Governor.