The new limits affect three highways in Bee County.
As soon as crews post new signs, the speed limit will be 75 mph on U.S. 181 from Normanna to the southern county line, on U.S. 59 from Berclair to the western county line and on State Highway 359 from Skidmore to Tynan (see map).
The same speed limit now is in effect on Interstate 37 from San Antonio to Corpus Christi.
While many of the affected roads are four-lane, those in Bee County are two-lane but with occasional passing lanes.
“This is a way to equalize the speed of traffic,” says Ismael Soto, the Corpus Christi district operations director.
When asked if TxDOT thought the higher speeds were suitable for two-lane roads, Soto said that TxDOT research had shown a significant number of drivers preferred to drive faster than the current 70 mph speed limit.
“The new speeds are a result of legislative action,” Soto says.
By raising the speed limit, he says, traffic flow would be more consistent, therefore safer, and more efficient.
The same legislation that authorized higher speed limits also removed reduced speed limits at night.
“The public more or less sets the speed limit,” Soto says. “We track what speeds people are driving and try to set the speed limit at that point.”
While admitting that a 75 mph speed limit would probably mean some drivers now would drive more than 80 mph, Soto said “somewhere we have to set a limit, and right now, 75 mph is it.”
He said TxDOT would monitor the roads once the higher speed limits are posted, including seeing if the new limits result in an increased number of accidents and also if any drivers complain.
Over a 60-mile course, the time gained by driving 75 mph instead of 70 mph is 180 seconds.
TxDOT announced the new speed limits Nov. 7 in an email.
Ironically, one minute later, TxDOT sent a second press release entitled “Let’s stop 12 years of fatalities,” noting that the last time Texas registered a day without a traffic fatality was Nov. 7, 2000.
“To date, at least one person had died every single day on a Texas highway or roadway, bringing the total to 41,252 — almost the population of San Marcos,” the release says.
TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson was quoted as saying, “…to see as many as eight or 10 (fatalities) in a single day is unacceptable; we are asking Texans to please help us make our roadways safer.”
The department notes that of the 3,048 traffic fatalities last year, almost 29 percent of those killed were not wearing seat belts; almost 36 percent were drinking while driving and 13 percent were texting while driving.
A bill introduced for the upcoming state legislative session would outlaw texting while driving.
The TxDOT release made no mention of how many of the recorded fatal accidents involved speeding or if speed limits too high for roadway conditions might have contributed.
Soto says crews are working as quickly as possible to put up new signs reflecting the new speed limit.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.