Texas will soon have the highest posted speed limit in the United States (heck, in the Western Hemisphere. Take that, Honduras.) – 85 miles per hour.
In November, Texas will open a new toll road on a heavily-used corridor between Austin and San Antonio, where the current highway (I-35) has a speed limit of 65 miles per hour. The higher speed limit is expected to appeal to drivers looking to shave some time off their drive. The new toll road will look especially attractive since the old highway’s speed limit will be reduced to 55 miles per hour. Pretty clever.
But how much time will drivers of the new toll road actually save? Not as much as you might think.
First, the new road is pretty short, only 41 miles long. Let’s assume that people will travel 10 miles per hour over each posted limit, not uncommon in Texas, and maybe even a bit conservative.
At 95 miles per hour, each mile flies by in 37.9 seconds. At 65 miles per hour, it takes 55.4 seconds. So the 41-mile journey takes 37.8 minutes on the old freeway, but only 25.9 minutes on the new super-fast highway, saving a whopping 11.9 minutes. Hardly a lifestyle-changer.
The problem is that as speed increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to shave off a few precious seconds. Let’s say that instead saving a mere 11.9 minutes, you want to cut 20 minutes from the trip on the 65-mph freeway. You’d need to average 138 miles per hour. Want to make the 41-mile trip in 15 minutes? Plan on zipping along at 164 miles per hour.
Regardless of the time savings, the new highway will prove an interesting experiment. How many drivers will pay to save a few minutes, and how much? Can drivers safely handle the increased speed? And how well do pickup trucks handle at 100 miles per hour?
It may turn out the time savings from the new higher speed limit is less than one would think, but I’m betting that the biggest benefit will come from reduced congestion on the new highway. The Texas Transportation Commission can adjust the toll to keep the road unclogged and traffic flowing smoothly, and that will be the source of the greatest time savings.
Personally, I’m glad to see this new highway and the higher speed limit. It’s an interesting experiment, and we need to keep trying new things to find what works, and what doesn’t. Because of the Great Recession, no one is taking any chances, taking risks, or being creative. As a nation, we’ve pretty much been curled up in a fetal position, waiting for the pain to pass.
The United States was built on great ideas, some of which failed spectacularly. But that’s o.k., because we’ve had so many shining successes. This new Texas toll road gives me hope that we’re still willing to just do something and see how it works.
(Note to Texas – I’m not letting you off for having one of the country’s highest poverty rates, lowest percentage with health insurance, and lowest rate of government spending per capita. Let’s use some of that creativity to help take care of your own.)