Have you noticed anything different recently when you are zooming up and down Interstate 5?
Remember those old double-decker signs that said SPEED LIMIT 65 and TRUCKS 55? Well, the bottom ones have been replaced by ones that say TRUCKS 60.
Yes, the state has changed its mind and long-haul trucks now can go 60 mph on most sections of Interstate 5 as well as some sections of Interstates 205 and 84.
The change, which was approved with little fanfare by the Oregon Transportation Commission at its Sept. 22 meeting in Salem, was fueled by concerns that with most non-truck traffic traveling at 70 or 75 mph, holding big rigs to 20 mph below that posed safety issues.
“It left too wide a gap between what trucks were doing and regular vehicles were traveling,” said Lou Torres, public information officer for Region 2 of the Oregon Department of Transportation in Salem.
“Our engineers considered two studies,” said Shelley Snow, spokeswoman at ODOT headquarters in Salem, one performed by ODOT and one by Portland State University. "Based on those two studies and several community open houses, they recommended to the speed zone review panel that we change the speed limit to reduce the difference between cars and trucks.”
The studies found that trucks currently average between 58 and 62 mph on the freeway sections under review with the 85th percentile — a common metric used to establish posted speeds — closer to 64 mph.
From 2001 through 2014 crashes on interstate highways increased in Oregon, although crashes involving trucks have decreased. The studies also found that passenger vehicles are more often at fault in crashes involving trucks.
The speed limit change took effect Nov. 13 when ODOT began installing the new signs, said Angela Beers-Seydel, public information officer for ODOT’s Region 2, which includes the mid-valley. Installation on Interstate 5 and 205 was completed Nov. 14, with the I-84 project taking a bit longer, Beers-Seydel said, “because lanes needed to be closed for the safety of the crews.”
Each of the seven ODOT districts that were involved in the speed limit change determined how they would replace the signs. Some installed new signs for the truck speed. Others, Beers-Seydel said, “did an overlay of the new speed limit on the existing sign.”
All of the 21 mid-valley signs are new, Beers-Seydel said. A total of 159 signs were installed statewide at a cost of $26,700, not counting the labor or crew equipment.
The speed limit remains 55 for trucks in urban areas such as Salem, Eugene and Portland, with Roseburg also staying at 55. Roseburg was a special case, ODOT officials said, because of crash problems, intersections that are close together and a high-usage rate by vehicles traveling within Roseburg.
The new speed limit also will be in place on I-205 between I-5 and West Linn and on I-84 from Troutdale to The Dalles.
The change has not sparked much response or criticism.
Marie Dodds, director of government and public affairs with AAA of Oregon, said the auto club, which has a long record of involvement in highway safety issues, did not take a position on the change.
“Generally, if ODOT … puts forth a recommendation that a speed change is safe, we do not interfere,” said Dodds, who added that as a rule “AAA’s position is that car and truck speeds should not be beyond (a) 10 mph difference because of safety concerns.”
C.J. Drake, communications and public affairs manager with Georgia-Pacific in Toledo, said the firm, which runs more than 300 trucks daily out of its container board facility, also has not taken a position on the change.
“We’re still evaluating its impact, if any, on our operations in Oregon,” Drake said.
ODOT began its investigation of the issue in November 2016. Portland State began its inquiry in February, public meetings were held in March and ODOT’s speed zone review panel made its recommendation to the commission in June after reviewing the completed ODOT and PSU studies (see the full text of the studies in the online version of this story).