A new state law allows all 241 cities in Oregon to apply for the authority to designate speed limits on roadways under their jurisdiction. Today, all changes in speed limits go through Oregon’s state traffic roadway engineer. But the process can be lengthy. ODOT has only one investigator for each of its five regions, creating a case backlog extending as long as six months to a year. Providing local governments with the authority to set their own speed limits should make the process quicker, more effective and more responsive to local needs.
Under the new law, any of Oregon’s 241 incorporated cities may seek this new authority from the state. They would then get training in state speed zone practices, state rules and laws and would produce a quality control plan. Speed is a major factor in road crashes. Making it easier and quicker for communities to lower their local speed limits will help reduce deadly crashes and reduce the impact on communities of color, which often bear an outsized brunt of highway crashes.
Oregon roads have statutory and designated speed limits. Statutory speed limits are set by state law, such as 25 mph in residential districts, 20 mph in school zones and 65 mph on most interstates. Designated speed limits, set by an engineering investigation, differ from the statutory speed limits. If a statutory speed limit is not appropriate, a designated speed limit can be established through an engineering study. That study is based upon nationally accepted standards and includes a review of roadway characteristics and the type of users. These characteristics include traffic volume, crash history, roadside development and density and operating speeds.
Safety is the most important factor in establishing speed limits. The posted speed should inform motorists of maximum driving speeds that are considered safe and reasonable for a roadway section under favorable weather and visibility conditions. All designated speed limits, whether set by ODOT or by an agency granted the delegated authority, will follow the same procedures and guidelines.