Texas has approved an 85 mph speed limit for a stretch of toll road outside of Austin. Two controversial issues have arisen following the Texas Department of Transportation’s approval of this, the fastest speed limit in the country.
One issue is whether raising the speed limit to 85 mph constitutes reckless behavior on the Texas Department of Transportation’s part. The American Trucking Association and the Governors Highway Safety Association are among the groups that have called on the state to reverse its decision, arguing that an 85 mph speed limit is too dangerous. Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Association, commented, “higher speeds dramatically increase the risks of a catastrophic crash.” And while some studies have found that higher speed limits on highways do not cause more accidents, they do show that higher speed limits increases the severity of the accidents that do occur.
The Texas Department of Transportation may have an ulterior motive in approving the new speed limit. A private firm, SH 130 Concession Company, is building the new toll road. Under the state’s contract with SH 130 Concession Company, the Texas Department of Transportation was due a $100 million bonus payment if the commission approved an 85 mph speed limit for the road. If the speed limit was set at 80 mph, the payment dropped to $67 million.
Another issue is whether neighboring roads have speed limits that are artificially set too low to encourage motorist to use the new toll road. For instance, U.S. 183 in Caldwell County has a speed limit of 55 mph, which was set by the Texas Department of Transportation. This highway used to have a posted speed limit of 65 mph. Caldwell County Judge, Tom Bonn, believes that the speed limit was set at 55 mph to encourage drivers to use the toll road.