A bill looking to give UDOT the option to increase speed limits on Utah's freeways zoomed through the House Friday morning.

On a vote of 63-8, the House of Representatives approved H.B. 80, which gives UDOT authority to increase speed limits in the state up to 80 mph as long as an engineering and safety study shows the road is ripe for the speed increase.

"We have done this very methodically over the last five years," said Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, the chief sponsor of the legislation.

Dunnigan's proposal means speed limits on I-15 through the Wasatch Front could raise to 70 mph if it is determined to be safe. It also means the rural areas of Utah's interstate roads could see more speed limits of 80 mph. Currently there are nearly 380 miles of 80 mph roads within the state.

In his presentation on the House floor, Dunnigan explained the bill came as a result of the past five years of data collected by UDOT. Dunnigan said the data showed that speeds have not had a dramatic increase since Utah started posting 80 mph limits. He said currently 85 percent of the drivers are going about 83 mph in the 80 mph zones.

Dunnigan also addressed the impact the change in the speed may have on the state's air quality. He said studies have shown that the limit increase would have similar impact to the air that the current speed limits already have.

"Once you get up to speed," Dunnigan said. "It does not negatively impact air quality."

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, questioned Dunnigan about statements made when the bill was heard in committee that Utah has not seen any deaths related to speed on its roads in the past year.

Dunnigan clarified that there have been deaths on Utah's roads from drivers traveling at high speeds but that none of the deaths came because Utah increased its speed limit by five miles per hour.

According to Dunnigan, one area already being targeted for an increase in the speed limit was the area between Green River and the Colorado border on I-70.

The bill now moves forward to be considered by the Senate.

-- Billy Hesterman covers the Utah State Legislature and local politics for the Daily Herald. You can connect with Billy by email at bhesterman@heraldextra.com or by

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