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Texas opens 85-mph highway near Austin

The privately funded toll road is both controversial and hugely appealing to commuters.

By Clifford Atiyeh Oct 24, 2012 10:39AM
Texas opened the toll gates today on a new stretch of highway with the nation's highest-ever speed limits, a controversial move that has sparked safety concerns as it promises to shorten commutes.

The 85-mph speed limit on this 41-mile segment extends a portion of state highway that already allows 80 mph just outside Austin. The new $1.3 billion road -- entirely financed and built by a private Spanish company, Cintra -- travels farther south through more rural towns between Austin and San Antonio.

The state maintains that 85 mph is a safe limit and that it stands to benefit taxpayers from the privatized road. Cintra, which has a 50-year contract to maintain the highway, will pay the Texas Department of Transportation $100 million in toll revenue sharing, an amount that was determined based on the highway's maximum speed limit. While regular drivers will pay roughly $6.17 to drive the extension's entire length, truckers -- some of whom are concerned that 85-mph speeds would be dangerous -- will need to cough up four times that amount. The tolls don't go into effect until Nov. 11.

High speeds aren't the only concern. Local towns on Route 183, a parallel route off the highway, criticized the state for lowering the route's speed limit from 65 mph to 55 mph in an apparent effort to encourage drivers to use the faster toll road. That decision is under appeal. The state's ties with Cintra have also come under fire since 2005, when the company was selected to build the Trans-Texas Corridor, a massive highway project that would have constructed 4,000 miles of toll roads. It was later rejected by the federal government.

Concerns aside, Texas -- like many other states in the Southwest and rural North that have 75-mph and 80-mph limits -- hasn't seen major highway problems with considerably higher speeds. With the state's warmer climates, straighter roads and less-populated areas, 85 could easily feel like 65 --- but only if drivers are smart enough to maintain their cars and refrain from distraction, which we know isn't easy.
229Comments
Oct 24, 2012 12:47PM
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Can't wait for photos of the gruesome wrecks which, you know, will happen on this road.   At least the idiots on cell phones will be able to be located when their connection is interrupted by a bridge abutment !!!
Oct 24, 2012 12:47PM
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Damn my truck hits the limiter at 96 so I can only get a ticket for 11 over
Oct 24, 2012 12:45PM
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Maybe where Texas could have an 85mph highway is I 10 between San Antonio and El Paso.  But then there are a lot of places where an 85mph highway would not be unreasonable;  I 10 Las Cruces to Tucson,  I 70 from Salina to Denver,  I 80 from North Platte to Cheyenne or Laramie to Evanston, just for example.  There are many other places in the Dakota's, or Montana as well.
Oct 24, 2012 12:40PM
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Anybody remember when then President Nixon lowered the national speed limit to 55 MPH in response to the oil supply and price spikes of 1973?


Back in 1973, the price for a gallon of gasoline briefly shot up from .48-cents per gallon to .65-cents before finally settling back down to .51-cents.

 

Nixon thought lower speed limits would mean better consumption of gasoline and improved MPG. Now, with gasoline up above $4.00 a gallon, Texas has gone and upped the speed limit to 85 MPH. Makes sense to me.

 

The average fuel economy for passengers cars has risen only 4.4 miles per gallon, from 18 miles per gallon back in 1970 to 22.4 miles per gallon in 2012 while the price of gasoline has risen 800-percent

 

I wonder how much "crazy" has gone up since 1970..

Oct 24, 2012 12:39PM
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Well it's about time!  As a point of perspective, when the PA Turnpike opened up it didn't have a speed limit.  The entire highway system that we take for granted today was started by Ike after he came back from Europe and modeled after the German system (autobawn).

The existing system was designed for an average of 85MPH back in the 50's.  Today's cars are FAR safer (better brakes, tires, handling, etc) so there's no reason to hold back. 
Oct 24, 2012 12:38PM
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I think that the State of CA should set the speed limit at 35mph on the South bound 405 and the 71 also the 91 .There would be no revenue however it would be PC.
Oct 24, 2012 12:38PM
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All our lives we've told that "speed kills", now we're told that it's alright  as long as you are paying for the privilege, and the profits go to "private enterprise'.  With the end of oil approaching, driving as fast as possible to hasten it's end seems to make little sense, but then again, it is the great red state that beileves in "America First", right? A Spanish company?  Get real Perry, you hypocrite!
Oct 24, 2012 12:34PM
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Hopefully it will start a national trend.  Washington state sucks when it comes to reasonable speed laws.
Oct 24, 2012 12:32PM
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I met a charming lady one time from montana or Utah who said they used to put $5 bills on the dash so that when they got stopped for driving over 100mph they were fined $5.
Oct 24, 2012 12:32PM
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yehaaaa !!!!!!!! Im East Bound and Down...xcuse me South Bound and Down !! 18 wheels a trucking......
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