Potential increases to truck speed limits on Interstate 5 will be open for public discussion when the Oregon Speed Zone Review Panel meets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Santos Community Center, 701 N. Columbus Ave., Medford.
The Oregon Department of Transportation is going through a process that could raise the truck limits to 60 mph from south of Portland to the California border in areas where the car speed is 65 mph.
ODOT suggested the data-driven process after legislators talked about speed-increase legislation for Western Oregon. In 2015, legislators approved raising speeds on Interstate 84 and highways in Eastern Oregon.
A recommendation will be made in June by the panel to the Oregon Traffic Commission, which is expected to make a decision in August.
“On Interstate 84, it was all done by legislation. Why not do a study? We can raise the trucks speeds under Oregon Administrative Statues,” said Kathi McConnell, traffic investigations coordinator with the agency.
ODOT is gathering speed and accident data and holding public meetings. The panel will also consider potential impacts, a public issues report by Portland State University and public comments.
Preliminary speed data has already been studied. Accident data are still being compiled as the agency waits for information to come in from other government agencies. Accident data are taken from local law enforcement reports.
Speed data come from capturing signals coming from passenger car cellphones and navigation systems and from embed fleet systems in trucks. The Federal Highway Administration records the data and makes it available to states through the National Performance Management Research Data Set.
“We don’t have to send people out and be exposed to dangers,” said Doug Bish, traffic services engineer. ODOT used data collected during one week in July during the daytime, Bish said.
Data were taken over eight interstate segments. In Southern Oregon, the segment was from mile 18 near Ashland to mile 69 near Hugo. The average sped was 61 for cars and 58 for trucks near Ashland. Speeds increase near Hugo, where the average speed was 62 for cars and 59 for trucks.
The changes, if approved, would apply only to 65 mph sections and not areas such as the Medford viaduct or curves near Myrtle Creek where speed limits are lower for vehicles.
A local trucking firm operator has mixed feeling about the proposal.
”I’m happy about eliminating the wider differential, but I just don’t like to see higher speeds,” said Mike Card, president of Medford’s Combined Trucking. “Number one is for the safety. The accidents are worse at higher speeds. Secondly, it's worse on my fuel economy.”
There also are safety concerns with the differential, says Card. There isn’t a lot of research he can point to, but Card thinks anything over 5 mph is less safe.
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— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org