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News >  Pacific NW

Oregon legislators seek to increase rural speed limit

Niki Sullivan Associated Press

SALEM – Some lawmakers are renewing a push to increase speed limits to 70 mph on rural interstate highways.

Proponents say the bill reflects both the will of Oregonians and current driving practices.

But state transportation experts and safety advocates testified before the House Transportation Committee Monday that raising the current 65 mph limit would increase traffic fatalities and put all drivers in greater danger.

The only testimony for the bill was from Karl Thatcher, whose wife, Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, is on the committee.

Thatcher said Oregon drivers want a faster speed limit and the Legislature should respect that. He also said the government should not outlaw something because it is potentially dangerous.

“We can drink, we can smoke,” he said.

But Mark Koberstein, a member of the Transportation Safety Governor’s Advisory Committee, said the speed limit should stay where it is.

“We don’t raise the BAC – the blood alcohol content – because people are drinking more,” Koberstein said, “but we seem to keep trying to raise the speed limit,” because people are driving faster.

The 2003 Legislature directed the Oregon Department of Transportation to study whether increasing speed limits was a good idea and gave the agency the option to increase rural highway speeds.

But, based on safety studies, the department decided not to raise limits on rural freeways.

The new bill would require speed limits to be increased to 70 mph on rural interstate highways, meaning highways not within cities of more than 50,000 people.

Troy Costales, transportation safety manager of the Department of Transportation, said increasing the speed limit would increase traffic deaths.

He said not only does the bill go against recommendations from the study ordered by the Legislature but would set a 70 mph speed limit on all stretches of rural interstate highway, including places where it would be dangerous to do so.

“Speed limit increases are the wrong thing to do,” he said.

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