Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
Texas bets drivers will pay more than $5 to drive 5 mph faster between San Antonio and Austin.
Want people to pay to drive on your toll road? Let them drive really fast.
That's the logic in Texas, where the state Department of Transportation is planning to institute an 85-mile-per-hour speed limit on a new section of highway currently being built to divert some traffic off heavily-used Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin. This new section of State Highway 130 would be the fastest road in the Western Hemisphere, as WOAI reports.
Most of the new highway is already built, and has a posted speed limit of 80 miles per hour – already 5 to 10 miles per hour faster than almost every other highway and freeway in the country. State Highway 130 is a 91-mile stretch that runs nearly parallel to much of Interstate 35 in the central part of the state. The last section of the highway – about 41 miles – will be opened by the end of the year and may have the 85 mile-per-hour speed limit, according to Darren McDaniel, Speed Management Director for the department.
Traveling this 41-mile stretch at 85 miles per hour would be 3 minutes and 52 seconds faster than the same distance at 75 miles per hour on neighboring I-35. Officials in Texas are hoping this time savings will be worth it to motorists who will be charged up to 12.5 cents per mile to drive on the new toll road, or more than $5 for the privilege of driving those 41 miles on the fastest stretch in the country.
This may be the first of many new super-fast stretches of highway in Texas. In April 2011, the Texas legislature approved speed limits of up to 85 miles per hour on newly built highways as long as they are deemed safe enough by traffic and engineering studies to allow that speed.
As the Austin American-Statesman notes, the speed limit is already 80 miles per hour on more than 520 miles of interstate highway in Texas. Utah state law also allows 80 mile-per-hour speed limits, but no other state has taken its speed limits above 75.
Speed is one of the biggest contributors to deadly traffic accidents, and Texas boasts one of the country's higher rates of road fatalities. According to figures [PDF] from the U.S. Census Bureau, Texas saw 1.3 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled in 2009; only 15 states had higher rates in 2009 (the U.S. average is 1.1). Utah, for example, had a rate of 0.9 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled.
In terms of raw figures, Texas is one of the most deadly states when it comes to traffic fatalities, recording 3,071 in 2009, second only to the slightly higher 3,081 in California – and significantly higher than the 676 state average. Of those Texas fatalities, 1,228 were related to speeding and 255 were on roads with speed limits above 55 miles per hour. (Utah, with only a tenth of Texas' population of 25 million, saw just 244 traffic fatalities in 2009, 104 of which were speeding related.)
Despite critics concerned about safety, officials at the Texas DOT contend that super fast roads will not pose any specific danger.
"The more people we can get to travel a uniform speed, the safer are the conditions that will exist," McDaniel told WOAI.