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Texas SH 130 now 85 MPH, fastest speed in the nation

Category: Public Private Partnerships

Link to article here.

The reason for this 85 MPH speed limit is money, money, money -- M-O-N-E-Y. TxDOT entered into a controversial public private partnership with Spain-based Cintra in 2007 that has a provision where it pays TxDOT an extra $100 million incentive if it changed the posted speed limits on the privately operated tollway to 85 MPH. TxDOT also decreased the speed limit from 65 MPH down to 55 MPH on the adjacent free route, US 183 that runs through Lockhart. So now speed limits are being determined based on the almighty dollar instead upon public safety. This is Rick Perry's crony capitalism on display in plain sight.

New Texas road to have nation's fastest speed limit

Thursday, September 6, 2012 | Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 7:28pm

By Carol Christian

Feared by some, fancied by others, a stretch of Texas toll road will open soon with the highest speed limit in the country - 85 mph.

The Texas Transportation Commission recently set the new speed limit for a 41-mile stretch of Texas 130 between the Austin suburb of Mustang Ridge and Interstate 10 at Seguin. Driving at the 85 limit, a motorist could travel the entire distance in less 29 minutes. But that time will be shaved further by the obvious: Many drivers will hit at least 90 on the speedometer, believing troopers will not ticket anyone for exceeding the limit by just a tad.

Scheduled for completion by Nov. 11, the segment is being built by State Highway 130 Concession Co., LLP, a private consortium comprised of the Spanish toll road firm Cintra and U.S.-based Zachry.

Only one other state, Utah, allows motorists to drive 80 mph, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Some experts say the new higher speed limit is likely to result in more traffic-related deaths.

"Research clearly demonstrates the direct connection between higher speed limits and more fatalities," Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., said in an earlier interview. "When speed limits go up, deaths on those roads go up. When speed limits go down, deaths on those roads go down."

The consortium designed, built and paid for the 41-mile piece of road known as Segments 5 and 6 and will operate and maintain that stretch for the next 50 years, said consortium spokesman Chris Lippincott.

In a statement, the company said, "The Texas Department of Transportation has determined that SH 130 Segments 5 and 6 may be safely traveled at 85 miles per hour. We are committed to operating a safe, reliable highway for our customers. On any road, drivers hold the key to safety based on traffic, travel conditions and the capabilities of their own vehicles."

Toll rates for the 85 mph segment were still under discussion Thursday, Lippincott said.

"Hopefully, we'll have something in the next couple weeks," he said.

Terri Hall, founder and director of Texans United for Reform and Freedom, a nonprofit that opposes private control of toll roads, said SH 130 is about profit, not safe transportation.

"I think it's obvious they are trying to incentivize people to use Cintra's toll road by increasing the speed limit on 130," Hall said. "Transportation decisions that are being made surround money and profit instead of the public interest. The higher the speed limit, the more attractive the toll road becomes."

Texas now has about 3,200 miles of roadway with a 75 mph speed limit, representing about 4 percent of the state's 80,000 highway miles, according to TxDOT.

The state's 575 miles of roads with an 80 mph speed limit account for less than 1 percent of Texas roadways, the agency said.

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September 7, 2012

Link to article here.

Toll Road Offers Fast Cash to Texas 
By Nathan Koppel
Wall Street Journal
September 7, 2012

Texas stands to pocket $100 million for approving an 85 mph speed limit on a new toll road, a special payoff that has drawn criticism from those opposed to the nation's fastest speed limit. (Photo not included, Photo caption: Texas stands to receive $100 million from the private operators of a state toll road for raising its speed limit to 85 miles per hour, a contractual payoff that is drawing criticism from consumer groups.)

The Texas Transportation Commission voted Aug. 30 to bump up the limit for a 41-mile portion of the 91-mile toll road between Austin and San Antonio, making it the fastest stretch of highway in the U.S.

The new segment of the toll road, State Highway 130, is set to open this fall and will be run by SH 130 Concession Co., a consortium of private road builders.

A contract the company signed with Texas in 2007 offers the state a one-time payment of $100 million for approving an 85 mph speed limit. The payout would have dropped to $67 million if the limit was set at 80 mph.

Some rural roads in Texas and Utah permit speeds up to 80 mph, and motorists on German autobahns average 84 mph.

"With transportation funding being a challenge all over the country, we must continue to look for innovative ways to generate revenue and be good stewards of taxpayer dollars," said Veronica Beyer, a transportation commission spokeswoman, in response to questions about the payout.

Consumer advocates voiced concern that Texas has sacrificed safety for money.

"Desperate for cars on a vacant toll road, private toll-road operators now offer the state an extra $33 million to win a reckless competitive advantage," said Andrew Wheat, research director for Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based consumer-advocacy group. "Such cozy deals are unsafe at any speed."

Safety experts have criticized the new speed limit, noting that crashes are likelier to be deadly at higher speeds.

A 2009 report in the American Journal of Public Health found that higher speed limits adopted by states in the wake of the 1995 repeal of federal speed-limit controls had led to a 3.2% increase in road fatalities, or an estimated 12,500 more deaths from 1995 to 2005. "When you increase speed limits, you have an increase in the severity of injuries," said Lee Friedman, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and one of the authors of the report.

David Anderson, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said the state has the discretion to set speed limits and thus wouldn't likely face liability for any accidents that may result from the 85 mph speed limit.

David Stall, a co-founder of CorridorWatch.org, a Texas advocacy group opposed to the privatization of roads, said he objects to the fact that the state this year cut to 55 mph from 65 mph the limit on a highway that runs alongside the new stretch of toll road.

"The state is penalizing the motoring public by lowering the speed limit on the free alternative so that it can draw more business to the toll road," he said.

Ms. Beyer said the state set limits on both the roads with safety in mind. "Safety is our top priority," she said, adding that the toll road has been designed and tested for high-speed travel.

SH 130 Concession declined to discuss its $100 million payout provision with the state, which also gets a percentage of toll revenue. Chris Lippincott, a company spokesman, said the toll road would be a draw to drivers looking to escape the often-congested highway that currently serves as the main link between Austin and San Antonio, two of the state's biggest cities.

Texas transportation officials have determined that the new stretch of toll road "may be safely traveled at 85 miles per hour," he added. "We are committed to operating a safe, reliable highway for our customers."

Legally driving a little faster certainly appealed to some motorists, who were excited at the prospect of hitting 85 mph.

"I've taken some very long drives in Texas, and they often are long, straight roads and can be quite boring," said Roger Dooley, head of an Austin-based marketing-consulting firm. Although his Hummer may strain to hit 85 mph, he said, "If you drive more briskly, I think you are much more likely to remain engaged."