Texas DOT lowering speed limits everywhere

Since November 2015, Texas DOT has been conducting a concerted and determined campaign to lower speed limits on roads statewide.

These reductions from 75 mph to 65 mph are slated to take effect or are in effect already:

  • A 38-mile stretch of I-20 From east of Midland to west of Odessa
  • A 17-mile stretch of I-10 from Winnie to Beaumont
  • US 59 Near Nacogdoches

In August 2015, the Texas Transportation Commission, a board appointed by the governor, voted to allow the Texas Department of Transportation to post speed limits up to 12 mph below the 85th percentile speed on road segments where crash rates are higher than the statewide average after conducting a speed survey.

The problem with this resolution is that it does not require that traffic engineers actually conduct a comprehensive engineering review of the road in question; which would include a speed study of current operating speeds. Engineers in the DOT are using speed studies that are almost five years old to determine the speeds. The streamlined process allows them to bypass the normal requirement to conduct a speed study if the crash rate is nominally higher than average.

Of course, “average” is a moving target. Some years have higher than normal crash rates and some years are lower. Many factors determine the crash rate: Flow conflicts, weather and changes in roadside development all play a role.

We must attempt to slow this process or many areas of Texas will have speed limits with anywhere from 35 percent to 2 percent compliance. All of us will be at risk for a ticket when traveling these roads.

There is an epidemic of engineering malpractice directed at motorists by the DOT. Examples include the following:

  • On the stretch of Interstate 10 near Beaumont, District 3 engineers supposedly found the 85th percentile to be 70 mph. 130 cars were surveyed in each segment. In 2012, the numbers were 75 mph. I drove that road myself and set the cruise to 75 mph. On the 17-mile stretch, I passed one car. Although there was supposedly a marked increase in crashes, there were no increase in fatalities or injuries along the stretch for over three years.
  • On the I-20 stretch, there was almost a 50 percent increase in crashes between Midland and Odessa, however, no attempt was made to determine whether the crashes were caused by speed. In addition, the district traffic engineers used four-year-old data to determine the recommended speed limit. The 85th percentile speed was 77 mph in 2011, nevertheless, the DOT summarily decided to cut the speed limit to 65 mph.

In a conversation I had with a DOT engineer, he told me that high accident interstate stretches have priority, and two lane roads would be less affected. Other news accounts paint a different picture.

On RM 2222 in Austin, they want to lower the speed limit from 60 to 55.

In Manor, TX, outside Austin, they are adding a turn lane on FM 973. The transportation department is itching to do a speed survey, begging people to request one. No doubt, it would result in a speed limit cut.

This is only going to get worse.

The Texas DOT and the lieutenant governor’s office need to hear from those of us who are mad about the recent policy change by the administration. We need to let them know that we are displeased with the new lower speed limits.

The opinions expressed in belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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