Joint Committee on Transportation group hears bill on lowering some speed limits in eastern Oregon

A new bill being proposed would allow some counties in eastern Oregon to lower speed limits on some highway sections without traffic studies.

HARPER — A bill that would allow a streamlined process for establishing lower speed limits on state highways in some counties in eastern Oregon is awaiting further action in the Oregon Legislature after a hearing in committee Wednesday.

Although it does not mention the location, the bill is the result of a push to lower the speed limit on U.S. Highway 20 in the vicinity of Harper Junction and Coleman’s Service, a store which is located there. The bill was heard by the Joint Committee on Transportation.

In comments made the during the short hearing on Senate Bill 397, of which he is the sponsor, Sen, Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, a committee member, said when he investigated putting up signs for a speed zone in front of the store at the junction, he was asked by an Oregon Department of Transportation official who was going for pay for a traffic study and work required for establishing a zone. He was also shown the state statute which requires a traffic investigation and engineering work for establishing zones on state highways in rural areas.

Bentz’s bill, which was requested by Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce, would allow ODOT to establish lower speed limits on state highways in low-populations counties (with populations under 40,000) without the required engineering and traffic study.

In the bill, the streamlined process would only require a notice from the county sheriff that the existing speed limit on the specified portion of highway is a danger and this would only be allowed for distance of a mile for less of highway.

The sheriff would notify the road authority of the speed danger, who would then recommend a speed limit to the department, the bill reads.

The bill would also require that the county will pay at least the costs of installing the speed limit signs.

It does not allow the new speed limit to exceed the existing limit and may not go above 55 miles per hour where there is no posted speed limit.

“It’s a public issue,” Joyce said, noting he and others have been working on the issue for three years. “It’s a simple fix,” he said of the bill.

The bill includes low-population counties east of the Cascades.

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Larry Meyer is a reporter for the Argus Observer.

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