From an editorial that appeared in the Chicago Tribune last Friday:
Everything is bigger in Texas, they say, and when it comes to one type of highway sign, its at least figuratively true. Later this year, the Lone Star State will acquire bragging rights for the highest speed limit in America 85 mph.
We know what some Texans thought on hearing this news: Only 85?
In the minds of some lead-footed motorists, there is no such thing as excessive speed. But elsewhere, you can find critics who have doubts about allowing drivers to travel legally, as the publication Transportation Nation put it, faster than hurricane force winds.
The new speed limit will apply only on a 41-mile stretch of a new toll road constructed parallel to Interstate 35. It was built to relieve a chronic bottleneck. A few highways will remain at a mere 80 mph.
Anyone who has ever traveled across the state by car can understand the impulse to accelerate. The old saying is, The sun is riz, the sun is set, and we aint out of Texas yet.
But it turns out theres another factor at work: money. The contract with the company that operates the tollway, reports The Wall Street Journal, 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.
Not everyone thinks its a good trade. A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health calculated that when the federal government allowed states to boost their limits from 55 mph to 65 mph, doing so produced more than 12,000 additional highway deaths over the following decade.
The state says the highway is designed to safely accommodate high speeds. Those averse to the risks of supersonic motoring will have the option of the interstate, where officials have been so thoughtful as to lower the limit from 65 mph to 55 mph.
And if that 85 mph standard makes some residents or visitors think they would be wise to migrate to someplace where speed limits are more temperate? Well, we know a fast route out of Texas.
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