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Speed Traps Lurk For Proposals To Increase Highway Speed Limits

B.J. Bumgarner
File photo. The speed limit on some rural two lane highways Oregon could rise to 65 or 70 mph.

Rural Oregon lawmakers say they want to get "up to speed" with neighboring states.

The top speed limit in Oregon is 65 compared to 70 on some sections of interstate in Washington and California -- and as high as 80 miles per hour in Idaho.

An association of emergency room doctors testified against the idea at a Salem hearing Friday though, as did Oregon Department of Transportation safety division administrator Troy Costales.

"Studies have indicated that when we increase speed, you increase the potential of risk and it does show itself in increased lives lost and serious injuries sustained,” Costales said.

In Olympia, state lawmakers gave only passing attention to proposals to raise the speed limit to 75 on Interstate 90 in eastern Washington. At this stage in Washington's legislative session those bills are probably parked for good. But a more generic measure to give the state Secretary of Transportation the authority to raise the maximum speed limit on a state highway to 75 when justified by engineering and traffic studies is still alive.

At Friday's legislative hearing in Salem, members of the state House Transportation Committee gave a fairly warm reception to the two separate bills that would increase the speed limit on Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon from 65 to 75 miles per hour. The speed limit on some rural two lane highways Oregon could rise to 65 or 70 mph.

"Many of my constituents have asked me to bring this bill," said state Representative Cliff Bentz, one of the bill’s sponsors. "So have many of the people who have contacted our law office asking that we try to defend them when they've gotten traffic tickets as they come zooming out of Idaho at 80 and fail to obey all the signs that say slow down to 65... We do hear a lot about how slow we drive in Oregon."

The committee chairwoman asked Bentz and another Republican representative from Eastern Oregon to try to write one unified proposal.

No matter what the final outcomes in Olympia and Salem, the fastest Northwest speed limit will still be in Idaho. None of the lawmakers to Idaho's west are proposing to match Idaho's 80 mph top speed.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.