On Wednesday, workers removed barricades at entrances and exits on the new 41-mile-long section of the Texas 130 tollway south of Austin, and drivers began doing something they've never done legally in Texas: go 85 mph.
The Legislature, based on a law it passed last year, thought driving that speed — a higher limit than on any other road in America — will be safe, or at least sufficiently safe to justify the time savings and other economic benefits it could bring to drivers and the state. That includes a $100 million payment to the Texas Department of Transportation (tied to the higher speed limit) from the company that built the tollway, will operate it and will pocket the toll revenue for the next 50 years.
Round up the usual killjoys;
But some traffic-safety experts say that when a speed limit is increased, drivers typically go faster; that when speeds increase there are more accidents; and that more people die in those accidents because of the greater forces involved.But the cowboys ain't cooperatin';
Since the Legislature last year broadened TxDOT's authority to set 75-mph limits and higher, the Texas Transportation Commission has been increasing limits almost monthly. There are now almost 7,000 miles of Texas roads with a 75-mph limit and 575 miles where it is legal to go 80 mph. That's almost 10 percent of the state highway system.
Carol Rawson, director of TxDOT's traffic-operations division, said data from those two West Texas interstates, as well as two Austin-area tollways that for several months have had 80-mph speed limits, buttress the idea that speeds and fatality rates on Texas 130 will not necessarily skyrocket.
In the three-year period before the 80-mph limit went into effect on I-10 and I-20, that 520 miles of highway saw 103 traffic fatalities, or about 34 deaths per year. In the next six years, there have been 146 deaths, or 24 per year. That's a decrease, on an annual basis, of about 29 percent.
"It says to me the speed didn't impact the numbers," Rawson said. "I think the 85 (on Texas 130) is safe and prudent."Podnahs, start yer engines.