It’s no secret that the air quality along the Wasatch Front can go from bad to worse, especially during the winter months. As temperatures drop, the brown smog quickly rolls in. These inversions can pose a variety of health problems for residents, especially for people with respiratory illnesses and allergies, as well as for small children and expectant mothers.
Each year several ideas are suggested to combat this seasonal problem in the state; this year, however, a new petition is gaining some ground that looks to reverse a recent change to Utah interstates. An online petition calls on the Utah Department of Transportation to lower speed limits on state freeways to 60 miles per hour. The petition comes shortly after the department raised the speed limit from 65 to 70 miles per hour in December of last year.
Last year’s appropriately numbered HB 80 authorized the Utah Department of Transportation to change speeds on the state’s freeways as they see fit after conducting a safety assessment. Though the original motivation behind the legislation was to increase speed limits, there is nothing in the bill preventing UDOT from reducing speed limits as well.
According to the petition, started by John Reuben Wosley, most vehicles are at their safest performance at 40 to 60 miles an hour and produce more pollution at faster speeds. Higher speeds also reduce fuel efficiency, meaning that refineries are required to produce more, further contributing to the poor air quality.
“Raising the speed limit is the exact wrong move,” Wosley’s petition adds. “If we want to use our cars to get from A to B, the least we could do is use them responsibly, and thereby not poison ourselves as much.”
Envision Utah reports that 48 percent of Utah’s air pollution comes from automobiles, while only 13 percent comes from power plants, manufacturers, and similar sources. They also report that “area sources,” meaning homes and businesses, contribute 39 percent of the overall air pollution in the state.
The organization is a leading partner of Utah’s Clean Air Action Team, started by Governor Herbert in October 2013. Envision Utah does not specifically list reducing the speed limit on Utah interstates as a goal to fight pollution in 2015. They do, however, site a variety of objectives to help improve the air quality in the coming year.
Indeed, many commentators have focused on air pollution as their primary concern with the change in state policy, while others are concerned about the safety surrounding increasing the speed limit in urban areas.