You may have read about the new 85 mph speed limit the state of Texas has approved for a 41 mile stretch of a new toll road between Austin and San Antonio. It is the highest approved speed limit in the United States. The state has said they conducted "studies" that show the new speed limit is safe. Consumer groups disagree. And a 2009 report in the American Journal of Public Health showed that the 1995 repeal of federal speed limits had resulted in a 3.2% increase in traffic deaths (amounting to an additional 12,500 deaths between 1995 and 2005).
Those additional deaths were caused by raising the speed limit from 55 mph to 70 mph. You can imagine the additional number of deaths that will be caused by raising it from 70 mph to 85 mph. The truth is that no matter how many people like the new speed limit, it just makes no sense safety-wise. So why is the state of Texas doing it?
The simple answer is money. There is a new toll road with expensive tolls, and the builders are afraid no one will want to pay those tolls. So what do they do? They offer the state a fee of $100 million (and a cut of the tolls), with one stipulation -- raise the speed limit to 85 mph (they would have only paid $67 million for a raise to 80 mph). And the state's Republican leaders jumped at the chance to soak the consumers (and with the ability to deny raising taxes). Safety was only a secondary concern (if a concern at all).
And then the state went further in their effort to force motorists onto the new toll road. They lowered the speed limit from 65 mph to 55 mph on the roads running parallel to the new toll road -- creating a difference of a full 30 mph between the free roads and the pay road.
It's all about money. The Republicans are very pious in saying they won't raise taxes on Texas citizens. But that doesn't mean they don't have dozens of other ways to pry money out of the wallets of Texans. The new toll road is just one of them, and the new speed limit is motivated solely by greed -- by the private consortium who built the toll road and by the Republican leaders in Austin.
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