Speed limits would increase to 80 mph on two West Texas interstate highways under a proposal by the Texas Department of Transportation.
The Texas Transportation Commission could take up the proposed change, which would apply to Interstate 10 and Interstate 20 in West Texas, when it next meets in Austin.
Some advocates for fuel conservation and safety have questioned the wisdom of boosting speed limits, but transportation officials said most drivers are already cruising at nearly 80 mph.
Carlos Lopez, director of traffic operations for the department, said a survey of both interstates found that 85 percent of motorists were driving up to 79 mph.
“If people begin to think that the number on the sign is unreasonable, then they won’t respect it,” Lopez said. “Just putting up a lower number on the highway isn’t going to slow down traffic.”
The change was made possible by state legislation passed last year making 10 counties in West Texas eligible for higher speeds, starting with Kerr County and stretching to the El Paso County line.
But with gas prices at a premium, some groups said drivers should be encouraged to slow down rather than speed up.
Increasing the speed limit “will have a perverse reaction,” said Peter Iwanowicz, director of environmental health at the American Lung Association. “Increasing the speed limit will increase fuel use.”
U.S. Department of Energy studies show gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. The agency’s Web site says that motorists generally pay an additional 20 cents per gallon of gas for each 5 mph they drive over 60.
Lopez said fuel conservation is already lost for most drivers, who are traveling at 77 to 79 mph.
Safety advocates also fear that raising the limit will lead to more traffic fatalities.
“Our concern is that the two biggest contributors to traffic accidents is speed and alcohol,” said Jerry Johns, president of the Southwestern Insurance Information Service, an industry group. “That has been consistent for years and years and years.”
Statistics kept by the Texas Department of Public Safety show each time the state has changed its speed limits, there has been a correlating effect on the number of traffic fatalities.
Department spokesman Randall Dillard said the 80 mph speed limit is intended to make driving on the interstate safer.
“It’s generally considered a safer condition when motorists are traveling at a uniform speed,” Dillard said.
Information from: San Antonio Express-News, www.mysanantonio.com.
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