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Lawmakers hit brakes on speed limit hike
Transportation » Proposed increase to express-lane speeds meant to appeal to motorists.
First Published Jan 26 2012 04:52 pm • Last Updated Jan 26 2012 11:59 pm

With the Utah Highway Patrol warning them to pull over and stop, legislators on Thursday hit the brakes on a proposal to allow cars to drive 10 mph faster in freeway express lanes than in other lanes.

The House Transportation committee voted 9-2 to send HB264 by Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, back to the Rules Committee with the suggestion that it be studied further by interim committees after this year’s general session.

At a glance

HB264 Increasing thespeed limit in HOV lanes

The House Transportation committee voted 9-2 to send the proposed bill back to the Rules Committee with the suggestion that it be studied further by interim committees after this year’s general session.

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Sumsion proposed allowing highway officials to raise the speed limit in express lanes up to 75 mph in areas where the speed limit is now 65 mph. He said that would provide an incentive for more people to carpool or pay tolls for single-rider cars to use those lanes in off-peak times when few now travel there.

"We have great concern" about the bill, said Utah Highway Patrol Superintendent Daniel Fuhr. He said 75 mph is too fast along urban freeways that are often congested and have restricted views.

At 75 mph, Fuhr said, a car travels 300 feet before a driver can react to a problem. "So when you get traffic going 75 mph in that HOV [high-occupancy vehicle] lane and traffic in other lanes could be … slower and someone cuts out in front of you, the reaction time just isn’t there to be effective without causing a collision," Fuhr said.

Worse, he said, high speeds especially threaten Highway Patrol officers dealing with cars that pull off to the side of the express lanes. "With traffic flying by at 75 mph, that’s a very, very dangerous situation."

Also, Fuhr said people often figure they can go 10 mph faster than the posted speed limit without getting a ticket. So even if the limit were raised only to 70 mph, "You would see traffic going 80 almost immediately."

Sumsion, who is running for governor, suggested that the bill be referred for more study. "I have huge respect for the Highway Patrol, and would never want to jeopardize an officer’s life in any way."

He added, "This isn’t a die-hard bill. This is just sort of a meek idea," which he thought may help the HOV toll program make some extra money and encourage more carpooling.

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