Highway speed in all urban areas must be 55 mph

I would like to know why the Interstate 5 speed limit is reduced from 65 mph to 55 mph between the two Medford exits? Very few drivers seem to observe the 55 limit, and it's dangerous for those of us who do. Very often when I am driving at 55 in that area, the cars and trucks are zooming by at a frightening speed. It seems to me that a police officer could write enough tickets to more than pay their salary and benefits if they would patrol that area.

— Tim M., Ashland

When the interstate speed limit was bumped up to 65 mph in 1987, provisions were made to keep the speed at 55 mph in Oregon's "urban" areas, according to Gary Leaming of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The nearly 4-mile stretch through Medford was kept at 55 mph primarily because of the increased traffic in that area and the nearly half-mile-long Medford viaduct, Leaming said.

In 2005, the Oregon Department of Transportation changed a 2.5-mile segment between north Medford and Central Point back to 65 mph based on a recommendation by the Oregon Speed Zone Review Panel in September 2004.

The panel felt the 55 mph speed limit had been based purely on political urban boundaries and was not practical from an operations standpoint given traffic volumes, driver awareness of the speed limit change and traffic enforcement, according to the panel's 2004 report.

As for patrols, Oregon State Police don't get to keep the revenues from their ticket writing. That money goes into the state's general fund and may be used for just about anything, including possibly keeping the lights on at the state Capitol in Salem.

At any given time of day, OSP has three to five officers to patrol all six state highways and Interstate 5 in Jackson County, says OSP Lt. Kelly Collins.

That number isn't likely to increase given the state's current biennial budget shortfall of $3 billion, Collins says. OSP currently has a hiring freeze.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.

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