By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

Bill in Salem — House Bill 3402 would raise the speed limit on several major highways in Central and Eastern Oregon.

Chief sponsors: Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove; Rep. Jim Weidner, R-Yamhill

Background: The bill passed both chambers of the Legislature this week and heads to the governor. If signed, the speed limit on U.S. Highways 97 and 197 would increase to 65 mph for cars and 60 mph for trucks. The new limit on Interstate 84 would increase to 70 mph, the highest in the state.

Read the bill online:

SALEM — Oregon lawmakers Friday voted to raise speed limits on Eastern and Central Oregon highways to levels they say drivers are already traveling.

The changes apply March 1 next year to stretches of Interstate 84, U.S. Highway 97 and other major roadways, all east of the Cascades, pending Gov. Kate Brown’s signature.

Rural lawmakers brought the bill because, they said, there was no reason limits in sparsely populated areas of the state should be the same as Interstate 5 in the Willamette Valley.

“I will suggest to you that distance is one of the great restrictions on the participation of people from my part of the world to engage in activities in your part of the world,” said Rep. Cliff Bentz, a Republican who drives more than 400 miles from Ontario to Salem during the session.

The new law won’t apply to highways within city boundaries, but drivers on Highways 97 and 197 would be able to legally drive 65 mph from the start of the route near The Dalles to Klamath Falls near the California border once the limits are changed.

U.S. Highway 20 headed east to Burns would also bump to 65 mph for cars. Trucks on both highways would be allowed to go 60 mph legally. Drivers on Highway 31 headed from La Pine southeast to Valley Falls will also notice the limit raised to 65 mph.

Notably, Interstate 84 east of The Dalles will have the highest of any major highway in Oregon at 70 mph.

The increased limits follow a trend among some states that have moved to raise their speed limits.

Oregon had been among a handful of states where the highest speed limit was still 65 mph.

Rep. Phil Barnhart, a Eugene Democrat, lamented the bill to raise the limit. Barnhart harkened to the 1970s, when speed limits were lowered under President Jimmy Carter’s administration amid a national oil shortage.

“There are really two reasons why we have the speed limits we have that I’m aware of. The first one of course and the most important one has to do with safety,” Barnhart said, adding the second is fuel efficiency.

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,