Drive 85 mph on State Highway 130 in Texas today and you won't be getting a ticket. It's the legal limit on this 40-mile stretch of a new toll road between Austin and San Antonio. It's not free-if you feel the need for speed the price tag is $6.17 one way.
Texas already has 80 mph limits on some highways, 75 mph on others, yet the speeds are a sedate 55 to 65 mph on through cities and towns.
Why 85 mph on this road? It's a toll road, built by a private company Cintra-Zachry, to Texas Department of Transportation specifications. The company didn't set the speed limit--the Texas Legislature did, in its last session.
Eighty-five miles an hour sounds extreme – and company spokesman Chris Lippincott understands the concerns. But he says, this road doesn't run through neighborhoods. "There is a lot of wide open space in Texas which makes sense with these higher posted speed limits--the 85, 75 80 mph roads are all out in rural areas that can handle that kind of traffic. It is important to remember that through towns like San Antonio, Austin and Dallas the speed limits are not set at 85 mph; we are not building a race track through the middle of town, we just want to make sure people can get safely and reliably where they need to go."
Eighty-five miles an hour may be legal but is it safe? Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director with the Governor's Highway Safety Association says he wouldn't want to be in an accident going 85. "Whenever we see a posted speed limit, we think we can go above it, we think we can go 5 or 10 mph above it and a lot of cases we can't, so the reality is you're talking about the flow of traffic being 90, 95, even a little bit more, and so if you're in a crash, you're just not going to survive, even if you wear a seatbelt."
The toll road was built to relieve congestion between the rapidly growing cities of Austin and San Antonio on Interstate 35, which runs from Dallas south to Laredo on the Texas border.
It's an exercise in frustration to commuters between those cities – many who don't mind paying $6.17 to escape the congestion.
The small town of Lockhart is near the new toll road – some residents hope a few drivers will exit the toll road to shop, and say they aren't bothered by the 85 mph speed, joking "people are already speeding so why not make it legal?"
The operators of the road aren't just sitting back counting the tolls – they have taken safety measures which include electronic signs warning drivers the left lane is for passing only.
They will be carefully monitoring traffic to see if Texas drivers can safely handle the increased speed.