Texas House backs plan to allow 85 mph speed limit

AP Reports: Texas House backs plan to allow 85 mph speed limit:

“AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas House approved a bill that would allow the speed limit on some highways to be raised to 85 mph, which would be the highest in the nation.

The measure passed Wednesday on a voice vote was part of a larger transportation bill. It would authorize the Texas Department of Transportation to raise the speed limit on designated lanes or entire stretches of roadway after doing engineering and traffic studies, the Dallas Morning News reported Thursday.

The Senate is considering a similar bill.

‘They have high-speed roadways in Europe, and there could be some merit in having some of those highways in Texas,’ said Rep. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, who introduced the bill. ‘Given the right engineering, we should consider it.’

Texas currently has more than 520 miles of interstate highways where the speed limit is 80 mph.

One such stretch of Interstate 10 ‘is as nice a road as you can build; it’s flat with a long line of sight, wide lanes and good shoulders,’ said Rep. Joe Pickett of El Paso. ‘For people like us who travel that long distance, it could be good’ to raise the limit to 85 mph, he said.

Some auto insurers oppose the measure, citing safety concerns.

‘Obviously, the two things that kill most people on our highways are speed and alcohol. Increasing it to 85, or even 75, will have a dramatic impact on the death and injury rate on those highways where it’s implemented,’ said Jerry Johns, a spokesman for the Southwestern Insurance Information Service.

He said drivers already exceed 70 mph highway speed limits.

‘But 85 mph is simply too fast to drive even on a flat road. Any little hitch can cause an accident at that speed. There is still traffic on those roads, and to drive 85 mph is simply ludicrous,’ he said.

The Transportation Department hasn’t done the speed and safety analyses of roadways the legislation would require, said department spokeswoman Kelli Petras.

‘It would be awesome to travel it, but you’d have to look at the safety and other factors,’ she said.”

The safety question is interesting, since, according to Lave and Elias raising the speed limit on Interstates in the 1980s and 1990s had overall (statewide) beneficial effects, by attracting drivers from less safe non-interstates to the Interstates, where higher speeds are more likely to be forgiven by the road. They write: “We find that the 65 mph limit reduced statewide fatality rates by 3.4% to 5.1%,holding constant the effects of long-term trend, driving exposure,seat belt laws,and economic factors.” Of course, other research has found the fatality rates on interstates themselves were generally higher.
This is then definitely good from a mobility perspective, possibly good from a safety perspective (though there may be limits to the implications of the Lave and Elias study, just because moving from 55 to 65 reduced deaths doesn’t necessarily mean moving from 75 to 85 will also reduce overall deaths), and probably bad from an energy and environment perspective, since energy consumption will most certainly rise with faster speeds.