Slow down, pardner.
The state announced Wednesday it will not raise the speed limit to 75 mph along rural portions of Interstate 90 in Eastern Washington.
The Washington state Department of Transportation, Washington State Patrol and Washington Traffic Safety Commission said they have decided against the proposal because of safety concerns.
“Our top priority as agencies is traffic safety,” said Acting Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar. “We made this decision through a lens of safety, and it’s notable that all three agencies agreed the increased safety risks were too high.”
The agencies considered increasing the speed limit from 70 to 75 mph along roughly 100 miles of I-90, from the town of George to the Lincoln-Spokane county line. That stretch of freeway runs through the sparsely populated Columbia Basin.
The time savings comes to about five minutes and 20 seconds. The value of that savings was pegged at $3.6 million.
The increased risks and costs associated with the proposed change far outweighed the projected time savings, the agencies found.
Their analysis predicted an additional 1.27 fatal or serious crashes annually if the speed limit was raised. A higher speed limit also would bring an estimated $8.3 million in additional annual safety costs, the analysis found.
“Our state’s Target Zero Plan aims to reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries to zero by 2030,” said Darrin Grondel, director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. “We believe this decision supports this goal.”
The review was done at the request of Eastern Washington legislators. A law passed in 2015 allowed for an increase if it’s deemed safe.
Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who sponsored the bill, said he originally sought to require the state to raise the speed limit on I-90 in Eastern Washington, but later agreed to give state agencies discretion under a study of the issue.
He said that Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has been pushing to reduce carbon pollution in the state and has met resistance from Republicans on those proposals.
Higher speeds consume more fuel and increase pollution.
In addition, the governor’s former transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson was effectively fired by Senate Republicans earlier this year after they refused to confirm her appointment three years into the job.
Controversies over several major projects in Western Washington was part of the political equation that led to the firing.
Baumgartner said the governor’s office may be retaliating against Republicans through his agencies’ action to block the higher speed limit.
“I am disappointed in the decision,” he said, “but I thought the governor’s office might go this way.”
Baumgartner said he will reintroduce the bill to require the higher speed limit on I-90 in rural Eastern Washington because it would be good for the economy and it makes sense.
The three agencies started studying the higher speed limit last August, using analysis of available traffic and engineering data as well as input from the public. Two public meetings were held in Ritzville and Moses Lake, two communities that would have been impacted by the faster speeds, in April.
Numerous states allow speeds of 75 mph on rural stretches of interstate highways. Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, Texas, Idaho, Utah and South Dakota allow top speeds of 80 mph on some roads.
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