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Utahns' commute might be a bit quicker beginning Monday afternoon, with the state planning to raise the speed limit on most urban interstates from 65 mph to 70.
Weather permitting, crews hope to change all the necessary speed-limit signs from North Ogden to Spanish Fork within a few hours between the morning and evening rush hours, said Jason Davis, chief of operations for the Utah Department of Transportation.
Stickers will be placed over most current 65 mph signs, although some older placards will be replaced entirely.
Davis told the Utah Transportation Commission on Friday that after a month of taking comments, UDOT has decided to proceed with the plan because it heard no arguments persuading it to reconsider.
Some groups did oppose it, such as Physicians for a Healthy Utah and the AAA travel and insurance company. Those groups worry the change could lead to increased speeding, more serious accidents and deaths and, perhaps, worse air pollution.
The Utah Highway Patrol also initially opposed the plan as likely to cause greater speeding and danger, but quickly reversed course to say it recognizes that it is UDOT's job to set speed limits, and that the agency has the expertise to do so safely.
But Col. Danny Fuhr, superintendent of the Highway Patrol, has vowed strict enforcement of the new 70 mph limit. He said people may not get tickets if they travel 1 to 3 mph over it, but will be targeted if they travel 75 in a 70-mph zone.
Still, Davis said, "The vast majority of the comments we have received have been supportive."
He added, "If we go by people's actions more than words, we'd win in a landslide. Their actions show they totally support this change."
Davis noted studies show that the vast majority of traffic already travels at 70 mph or more on Wasatch Front interstates.
Raising the limit "will give those who were adhering to the speed limit the opportunity to drive at a speed more reflective of what the majority of the people are traveling, and that should make for a steadier flow of traffic throughout the entire corridor," Davis said.
He added that higher limits won't add to air pollution or speeding and accidents "mostly because people are already traveling that fast now."
Davis referred to state studies conducted after UDOT raised some rural-freeway speed limits to 80 mph that showed overall speeds ticked up by just 1-2 mph, and that most people were happy to essentially drive the speed limit and no faster.
"We expect the same to happen now," Davis said.
The Legislature this year passed HB80 to allow UDOT to raise speed limits on interstates throughout the state up to 80 mph, wherever it feels that is safe. UDOT began by studying urban interstates along the Wasatch Front, and concluded it would be safe to raise it to 70 mph in most areas.
It made a few exceptions to the new 70 mph standard, including Interstate 80 between Redwood Road and Interstate 15, because of a sharp curve there. Another is on I-80 from 13th East to Parleys Canyon where traffic has been moving at speeds of less than 70 mph. Also, Interstate 215 from Parleys Canyon to 33rd South will remain at 65 mph.
The new law allows raising speed limits only on interstates. That means freeways that are not part of the interstate system such as State Road 201 in Salt Lake County will remain at 65 mph.
Davis said snow could delay the changeover scheduled for Monday, because snow removal crews are needed to help quickly change signs. But the National Weather Service forecast Friday called for mostly sunny conditions Monday.