On one brand new stretch of toll road southeast of Austin, Texas, you can cruise at 85 mph and not worry about being pulled over for speeding.
That’s because starting Wednesday, on this 41-mile segment of road, 85 mph is the legal speed limit. It’s the highest in the country, and some are wondering whether it might be a little too high.
The new section of toll road provides an alternative to I-35, the congested artery that’s the spine of the Texas highway system. People who have driven between San Antonio and Austin can atest to the traffic -- it can be bumper to bumper. In addition to long haul truckers headed from the border to the interior of the U.S. and back, there are also soccer moms hopping on and off to get to Walmart and thousands of suburban commuters headed into the office.
So an alternate highway makes sense, but why 85 mph? Clearly drivers want to get where they’re going faster, and at 85 mph, the new toll road potentially cuts the drive time from Austin to San Antonio in half.
The Texas Department of Transportation says although it’s fast, the new speed limit is safe. The road was designed for it. It’s straight and through rural areas. But critics point out the Transportation Department had a financial incentive to set the speed higher.
...The high speed has some concerned. Groups like the Governors Highway Safety Association point out that as speeds go up, so do fatalities...
... There also might be a financial consideration for drivers to stay under 85 mph. The Department of Energy estimates that for each 5 mph you go over 50 mph, you pay about a quarter extra a gallon in gas.