In a controversial move, the Texas Transportation Commission has approved a speed limit of 85 mph for a 41-mi. toll road several miles east of the crowded Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio, making it the highest speed limit in the nation.
The Texas Legislature approved 85-mph limits for some new highways last year. A strip of toll road running from Austin to Seguin, about 35 mi. northeast of San Antonio, will be the first to allow that speed when it opens in November, according to an ABC News report.
Although there are a few rural roadways in West Texas and Utah with 80-mph limits, most highways in the U.S. top out at 75 mph. And while some are thrilled at the prospect of being able to speed through the crowded Texas metropolitan areas, others question the safety of the high speeds.
Russ Rader, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said higher speed limits may get people to their destinations faster, “but the trade-off is more crashes and more highway deaths. The research is clear that when speed limits go up, fatalities go up,” he said.
A 2009 report in the American Journal of Public Health studied traffic fatalities in the U.S. from 1995 to 2005 and found that more than 12,500 deaths were attributable to increases in speed limits on all kinds of roads. The study also said that rural highways showed a 9.1% increase in fatalities on roads where speed limits were raised.
However, Texas Dept. of Transportation spokeswoman Veronica Beyer said the agency has studied the safety of the 85-mph speed on that segment of highway and it is safe. “Safety is our top priority and tests have shown the designated speed is a safe one,” Beyer said.