A bill to expand 80 mph speed zones on Utah freeways zoomed through the House on Wednesday.
HB83 was approved on a 69-5 vote, and now goes to the Senate. It would allow the Utah Department of Transportation to add more 80 mph zones on Interstates 15, 80 and 84.
Previous legislation allowed UDOT to operate several 80 mph "test areas" on I-15 between Nephi and Cedar City for the past four years. The new bill would enlarge that zone from Santaquin to St. George.
It would also allow other 80 mph zones in areas deemed safe for them on I-15 from Brigham City to the Idaho state line, on I-84 between Tremonton and Idaho, and on I-80 from the Nevada line to the Tooele-Stansbury exit.
UDOT has said that new 80 mph zones increased actual average highway speeds within them by only 1 mph to 83 mph essentially making legal the higher speeds at which most people already had been traveling. It said accident rates there actually dropped, and no fatalities occurred.
Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, the bill's sponsor, joked in debate that accident rates may have dropped because people paid more attention to the road ahead "instead of looking in their rear view mirror" for lights of police seeking to ticket them.
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, questioned if raising the speed limit would increase air pollution.
Dunnigan noted higher speeds would be allowed in rural areas, not urban areas with pollution problems. He said UDOT also testified that new cars emit pollutants at about the same levels at either 55 mph or 80 mph although older cars pollute more at higher speeds.
Utah and Texas currently are the only states that have speed limits higher than 75 mph. Most Utah freeways in rural areas have 75 mph limits, while the limit is 65 mph in urban areas.