A bill to expand 80 mph speed zones in Utah crossed the finish line Friday in the Legislature.
The Senate voted 29-0 to pass HB83, and sent it to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.
Previous legislation allowed several test areas for 80 mph zones on Interstate 15 between Nephi and Cedar City for the past four years. HB83 would expand that on I-15 to between Santaquin and St. George.
It would also allow 80 mph zones in any areas that engineers decide are safe on I-15 from Brigham City to the Idaho border, on Interstate 84 from Tremonton to Idaho and on Interstate 80 from Nevada to the Tooele-Stansbury exit.
"This is the coolest bill of the whole year," said Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, the Senate sponsor of the bill.
He noted that when the state first allowed some 80 mph zones previously, "everybody was so worried that deaths would go up and there would be carnage on the highway." But, he said, "deaths went down" in those areas.
Studies also showed that the average speed in those 80 mph areas rose by only 1 mph to 83 mph. "People drive at the speed they feel safe at, [regardless] of the speed limit," Jenkins said.
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, the bill's main sponsor, has also said he does not think more 80 mph zones would worsen urban air pollution because studies show newer cars pollute about the same between 55 mph and 80 mph, and most areas under consideration for higher limits are also in rural areas.
The Utah Department of Transportation has said that it will raise speed limits in permitted areas only in stretches where it feels it is safe to do so such as those without restrictive curves or hills, and where few accidents have occurred historically.
Utah and Texas currently are the only states that have any 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.