Texas toll road debuts new 85 mph speed limit -- tops in the land
Drivers in Texas headed from Austin to San Antonio have a choice: take the free Interstate Highway 35 at 75 mph or jump on the new, privately operated toll road at 85 mph. But some folks have raised eyebrows over how that speed limit was set -- and what the state got for setting the highest speed limit its ever granted.
It’s not quite the Autobahn in Germany, but if you have a little money in your pocket and you need to get from San Antonio to Austin, Texas quickly, you might consider a private toll road — with a speed limit of 85.
That's believed to be the fastest speed limit on any stretch of highway in the country. The 41-mile stretch of road runs along U.S. Highway 183 — and is operated by a private company.
Texas gets more money from the private operator because of the higher speed limit. And while an 85 mph speed limit might seem extreme to residents of some states, where speed max out at as little as 60 mph, Hawaii, or 65 mph — New York, Illinois, Oregon, among many others — it's just 5 mph more than the existing maximum speed limit on certain rural stretches of Texas highways.
Ben Wear, transportation reporter for The Austin American-Statesman, said objections to the higher speed limits have centered around two main areas. First, that the consequences of a higher-speed accident are worse, and second, that reflexes are less effective at extremely high speeds.
"What state officials have been arguing over the last few years as a lot of 70 mph speed limits in Texas became 75 and became 80," Wear said, "is what really causes accidents is not necessarily high speed, but differentials of speed."
In other words, it's actually more dangerous to set a speed limit too low, because invariably some people will go vastly over the speed limit, while others go the speed limit.
But that argument seems disingenuous to some, who see the 85 mph speed limit coming directly out of the toll road privatization contract Texas officials signed with the multi-national company that will build and operate the highway.
"It has language in the agreement that said the payments (from the private company to the state transportation department) would be based on what the speed limit is," Wear said.
In other words, Texas gets more money for giving the private company a higher speed limit.
The rationale is that the higher speed limit — the highest in the state — will draw more people to the road. The private toll road runs parallel to the free-use Interstate Highway 35.
Texas is something of a leader in the United States in privatizing toll roads — though it's a phenomenon that's common in other parts of the world.
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