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Legislature will consider new speed limit next month

80 on 80?: Legislature will consider it next month

Jan 6, 2014 - By Trevor Brown, MCT News Service

Wyoming lawmakers are taking another run at raising the maximum speed limit for Wyoming's highways.

A group of legislators recently filed a bill that would allow the state to raise the speed limit from 75 to 80 mph on certain stretches of highways.

The legislation, filed as House Bill 12, will be debated during the coming session that begins Feb. 10 in Cheyenne.

The bill would require the Wyoming Department of Transportation to study what sections of the highway system could handle the increased speed limit.

The department could then set the 80 mph limit where and when it considers "reasonable and safe."

Rep. Dave Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, who co-chairs the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee, is among the co-sponsors of the bill.

He said it makes sense for the state to study whether some of the long, straight highways in rural parts of the state should have a higher limit.

He said the higher speeds could even be safer.

"Obviously, we want to maintain a safe atmosphere," he said. "But it could be debated that getting somewhere five miles quicker is safer or it could be debated that it is detrimental to have that higher speed.

"But I think that should be debated, and the studies would point out those facts."

Utah and Texas are the only states that allow motorists to legally drive 80 mph or higher on parts of their highways.

Utah designated 289 miles of roads, including much of Interstate 80 west of Salt Lake City, as 80 mph zones in the past few months.

According to the Utah Department of Transportation, the changes came after studies found that the faster speeds were as safe or safer for motorists on those sections of highways.

But local law enforcement officials brought up safety concerns in 2012 when Wyoming lawmakers last considered a proposal to increase the speed limit here.

Sam Powell, representing the Wyoming Peace Officers Association, told a legislative committee that it has the potential to make driving more dangerous.

He said raising the limit to 80 mph would cause people to drive at unsafe speeds since many motorists think it is safe to drive about 5 mph over the posted limit.

In addition, he said that during his 30 years as a state trooper, he saw that crashes became more severe each time speed limits were raised.

"When I was working the roads and the speed limit was 55 mph, very seldom you'd see a vehicle leave the road and roll," he said. "But if you ask a patrol today, you'd be surprised how many times they have vehicle rollovers that roll two times or three times."

The 2012 version of the bill passed the House of Representatives on a 56-to-1 vote.

But it died in the Senate when a committee refused to advance it to the floor.

Zwonitzer said he is optimistic of the bill's chances this time.

The bill will first need to receive a two-thirds majority in the House just to be introduced since this will be during a budget session.

But Zwonitzer said he's confident, based on the support the proposal received in the House in 2012, that there are the votes to at least introduce the measure and bring it up for more debate.

The bill also has the backing of several influential lawmakers.

The other sponsors are Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne; Speaker of the House Rep. Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette; and Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, who is the other co-chairman of the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee.

The bill will need to receive a two-thirds majority to be introduced since it is a non-budget bill.

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