September 17, 2012 8:00 AM, EDT
Editorial: Reckless Texas
This Editorial appears in the Sept. 17 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

For years, we’ve been battling to get the nation’s highway speeds under control. We all know that slowing down a little saves many lives and loads of fuel. And while we’ve not been very successful in getting the politicians to listen, many responsible truck fleets have taken up the cause and have placed speed limiters on their vehicles.

Now comes Texas.

In a brazen display of recklessness, and with utter disregard for the safety implications of its decision, Texas has decided to let its private “partner” on a section of State Highway 130, also called Pickle Parkway, post an 85-mile-per-hour speed limit, the highest in the country, when it opens.

And as far as we can see, state officials made this unacceptable decision primarily to reap $100 million from that “partner,” a joint venture of Zachry American Infrastructure and Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte S.A. Because the faster speeds are expected to draw more customers, the “partners” are willing to pay more to the state.

As American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said last week, “At the end of the day, excessive speed is the greatest threat to highway safety, and by giving motorists carte blanche to put the pedal to the metal, Texas is raising the risk of more crashes, as well as more severe crashes.”

While state officials said they were sure the roadway would be safe at these speeds, Graves said, “It is simply unfathomable that a state would allow drivers to put themselves and others at risk by increasing speed limits to such excessive heights.”

Interestingly enough, the state recently lowered the speed limit on a road that runs alongside the new toll road, U.S. 183, to 55 mph from 65 mph.

The leaders at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association get it. They told our reporters, “The controversy of having 85 mph and 55 mph speed limits on those routes doesn’t appear to be done to enhance transportation for highway users. It looks like the state is working in collusion with [the private ‘partners’] to maximize its revenue.”

As Graves said, the move by Texas was an “obvious attempt” to generate more traffic — and thus more revenue — for the state’s “partner” in the venture, which “highlights the trade-offs associated with relying too much on the private sector to finance highways.”

ATA has asked Texas to undo its decision to allow the 85 mph limit. We join in that call.