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A reasonable speed proposal

Trucks shouldn't go 65 mph, but some 55 zones make little sense

Sometimes the experts know what they're doing.

That seems to be the case with the Oregon Department of Transportation's recommended changes to interstate highway speed limits. ODOT's recommendations are sensible, and the agency's report properly balks at increasing truck speed limits as much as lawmakers wanted.

The Legislature last year authorized ODOT to raise car speed limits from 65 to 70 mph on some stretches of interstate. But the legislation included a requirement that, if cars were allowed to travel at 70, the truck limit had to go to 65.

That's a 5-mph increase for cars, but a 10-mph increase for trucks from the present limit of 55. ODOT officials and Oregon State Police aren't comfortable letting trucks go that fast, and neither are we.

At least one local trucking company owner isn't thrilled with the idea either, not for safety reasons but because his fuel costs would increase at the higher speed.

While declining to boost speed limits to 70, ODOT is recommending an increase from 55 to 60 mph on some stretches of Interstate 5 through cities, including Medford and Central Point. That makes sense to us.

— Many motorists already ignore the 55-mph limit near cities. The rationale for the reduced speed is greater safety, but it's hard to see how much safer it can be when compliance is low.

Traffic speed on interstates tends to be self-limiting anyway, in our experience. When traffic is heavy ' a common occurrence near cities with multiple interchanges ' it tends to slow down.

It is certainly hard to see how slowing to 55 more than two miles ahead of Central Point on southbound I-5 makes anyone safer.

It's also hard to see why cars shouldn't be allowed to travel 70 mph on selected stretches of freeway. The interstate highway system was designed for 70-mph limits in the first place, and the 55-mph limits were originally an attempt to conserve fuel during the energy crisis of the 1970s.

Cars today not only get better gas mileage, they are safer than in the 1970s. Motorists already exceed the 65-mph limit much of the time. And neighboring states have had 70-mph limits for some time.

We supported the idea of 70-mph limits when the legislation passed. Now it seems the barrier to implementing the increase is the requirement that trucks be allowed to go 10 mph faster than they do now.

The Legislature should revisit this issue and remove the truck speed requirement.