By Jordan Floyd
MENDON – For Mendon resident Becky Shelton, the speed limit change on State Route 23 is a matter of public safety and protection of the rights of her small city.
The issue began last May when the Utah Department of Transit conducted a speed study on State Route 23. Within a week of the study, she said, UDOT put up new signs raising the speed limit on the road from 30 mph to 35 mph.
Shelton felt enraged. Her biggest concern was that she believed the city never had a say in the process of changing the speed limit.
“This is our city,” she said. “Shouldn’t we have a say?”
In July, Shelton complained to Darin Fristrup, the UDOT regional traffic operations engineer, but was told there wasn’t anything immediate the department could change.
“He gave me a spiel about the study, but said there wasn’t anything he could do,” Shelton said.
She then enlisted the help of other Mendon residents to draft a petition, which she says was signed by over 100 residents calling for repeal of the new speed limit.
Mayor Ed Buist also weighed in with a letter to UDOT expressing the concerns of Mendon citizens. Buist noted two blind spots on the north and south ends of the road, the fact that children often travel to and from school along the road, and his worry that the speed limit will increase with each subsequent UDOT study.
Buist’s letter garnered a response from UDOT, but Shelton has yet to hear anything. She believes her efforts were not considered by UDOT because she does not hold public office.
Buist read the response letter from UDOT during November’s City Council meeting. The letter outlined how the department determines speed limits, and said nothing would change on the city’s roads until the next study.
After reading the letter, Buist said, “It’s just something we’re going to have to live with.”
But Shelton isn’t done. She is in contact with state Rep. R. Curt Webb in an effort to combat the speed limit change.
Fristrup says determining speed limits on state highways is UDOT’s job.
Utah law requires a study to be conducted before a speed limit can be established. UDOT conducts these studies every three to five years to keep speed limits current and fitting for the road traffic and conditions. UDOT tracks average speeds on a road, and sets the road’s speed limit at 85 percent of the average, he said, within 5 mph above or below the 85th percentile speed.
“In a way, they’re voting to say what they would like the speed limit to be” by how fast motorists drive, Fristrup said.
A lot of cities think raising speed limits means drivers will end up going even further over a speed limit, Fristrup says, but it’s not actually case.
He says he has seen studies where raised speed limits have actually dropped the average speed on the road.
“Lowering the speed limit doesn’t mean roads will be safer,” he said.
Fristrup believes lowering speed limits can actually decrease safety because it creates a larger discrepancy in speeds between those who go over the speed limit and those who abide by it.
Still, Shelton’s efforts will continue with the legislature in fighting the speed limit change.