LOCKHART, Texas -- A 40-mile stretch of a Central Texas toll road
is slated to open Wednesday, and officials and residents will be
watching to see how fast traffic goes - and whether the state's drivers
can handle the extra speed.
The new stretch of Texas Highway 130 will allow drivers to bypass
Austin and avoid an often-congested Interstate 35. Its 85 mph speed
limit will be the highest in the United States.
While state officials say they're not immediately worried higher
speeds will lead to more crashes, they are working to promote good
driving habits, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. Officials have
arranged the installation of 3,400 signs that tell drivers the left lane
is for passing only - a message also displayed on electronic signs.
"We're going to have to teach Texans how to drive these safer
speeds," Texas Transportation Commission member Bill Meadows told the
The Texas Department of Transportation was required by state law to
conduct a speed study before setting the higher speed limit. In a
demonstration of the study done for the newspaper, two safety officials
drove an already open 19-mile stretch of Texas 130 with a speed limit of
Speed zone engineer Darren McDaniel drove in a pickup truck. Traffic
operations division director Carol Rawson sat in the passenger seat and
noted McDaniel's speed. McDaniel tried to avoid looking at his
speedometer and drove at a speed he found comfortable, as Rawson noted
how fast he was going. Most of the time, he drove between 80 and 82 mph.
Rawson also noted road visibility and the amount of space on the highway shoulders.
The existing stretch of Texas 130 will likely retain an 80 mph speed
limit, though that could be raised, both officials told the newspaper.
But whether the extra speed will cause more accidents remains to be
seen. More than 3,000 people were killed on Texas roads last year, a
higher fatality rate than the national average, the newspaper reported.
Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety,
said raising the speed limit will inevitably lead some drivers to push
"People do pay attention to the speed limit: They use it as a
guideline and figure out how much faster they can go without getting a
ticket," Lund said. "Gradually, you end up with the same number of
people exceeding the speed limit that you had before. There's an
assumption that the government is always conservative, so if 85 is the
speed limit, then 90 and 95 must be safe, right?"
Jeff Gibeaux, a civil engineer in Lockhart who expects to take Texas
130, said he considers it a certainty that some drivers won't be
satisfied at 85.
"I think people will routinely pass me going 100," Gibeaux said.
"Regardless of the speed limit, there's always going to be people who
want to go past it."