Texas will soon have the fastest highway in the United States. A stretch of road between Austin and Seguin has been gifted with an 85 mph speed limit, according to the Associated Press.
The Texas Transportation Commission approved the new limit for this 35-mile stretch of toll road, which runs east of the crowded Interstate 35 corridor favored by commuters, after the state’s legislature approved raising speed limits on new roads last year. The Austin-Seguin road opens in November.
For years, American speed freaks have had to watch Germans have all the fun on their autobahns, and this could be an excellent opportunity to really drop the hammer on U.S. soil. It could also help reduce travel times between two of the biggest cities, and potentially others, in the biggest state in the contiguous United States.
However, the decision isn’t as radical as it seems. Texas already has an 80 mph maximum speed limit, so drivers on the new toll road will only be going five mph faster than their fellow Texans.
The 85 mph speed limit also includes an economic incentive for the state government. The state’s contract with the toll operator allows it to collect a $67 million up-front cash payment, or a certain percentage of the toll profits, if the speed limit is 80 mph or lower. If the speed limit is above 80 mph, the state gets $100 million or a higher percentage of the profits.
“We must continue to look for innovative ways to generate revenue and be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Texas Department of Transportation Spokeswoman Veronica Byer told the Associated Press.
Sound economic reasoning aside, there are obvious concerns over drivers cruising 10-20 mph faster than nearly every other American.
“The research is clear that when speed limits go up, fatalities go up,” Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said. He said higher speed limits will get people from place to place faster, but they would cause more crashes and, ultimately, deaths.
Texas officials believe that, despite the connection between speed and highway danger, the 85 mph limit is within the envelope of safety.
“Safety is our top priority and tests have shown the designated speed is a safe one,” Beyer said. Speed limits on Texas highways are reportedly set by the 85th percentile method, where the speed limit reflects the maximum speed 85 percent of drivers are willing to drive at or below.
On most highways, speeds are restricted to 65 or 75 mph. Certain stretches of road in Texas and Utah have 80 mph limits. Montana was the last state to have no speed limits, but that practice ended in 1999.
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