Interstates and urban highways are one thing; but why should the State of Oregon be able to tell cities and counties how to set speed limits on local streets?
It’s a question that has irked City of Portland transportation officials for many years and one that has grown in importance as Vision Zero has emerged as a top priority. Speeding is the top factor that determines whether someone lives or dies in a traffic collision, so it’s no surprise that cities want to do everything they can to keep it under control. But under current law the Oregon Department of Transportation wields nearly complete oversight of speed limits. With just one narrowly-defined exception (more on that below), ODOT gets first and final say about how fast people can legally drive on every street in Oregon.
That might be changing thanks to a bill making its way through the legislative process in Salem.
Currently, the one exception to ODOT’s oversight of speed limits is on residential streets that have been engineered specifically to prioritize vulnerable roadway users. Cities and counties won the right to lower the speed limit on residential streets (a.k.a. “neighborhood greenways” in Portland) to 20 mph in the 2011 legislative session.
This time around PBOT’s strategy is to make surprisingly simple changes to the wording of the law that governs speed limits. In the current session, House Bill 2682 would give cities and counties the ability to establish speed limits on locally-controlled roads without having to seek approval from ODOT. The bill has been put forth by Representative Rob Nosse*. Nosse’s district is southeast and northeast Portland — places with some of the highest cycling and walking rates in the entire state.
The bill seeks to amend Oregon Revised Statute 810.180 (“Rules for maximum speeds”) by adding just two words and deleting about two-and-a-half paragraphs out of its three pages of text.
Below is the portion of the statute that Rep. Nosse wants to change (lined-out passages would be deleted, highlighted words would be added):
Small and simple changes that could make a world of difference in road safety.
By changing “the department” (which refers to ODOT) to “road authority” and removing several procedural steps, the bill would significantly streamline the process by which cities and counties would be able to alter speed limits.
If the bill passes, local agencies would not have to send a written request to ODOT and they could conduct their own engineering analyses, instead of having to wait and rely on the state.
It’s very early in the session and this bill is sure to spark some debate in committee. Stay tuned for more coverage.
*Representative Rob Nosse: 503-986-1442, Rep.RobNosse@state.or.us