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The highest speed limit in the United States can now be found on a central Texas highway.

Transportation officials in the state approved an 85-mile-per-hour speed limit along a 41-mile stretch of State Highway 130, which runs between suburbs of Austin and San Antonio. Under consideration since June, the speed limit had received criticism from traffic safety experts and insurers.

The five-member commission, which approved the proposal in a unanimous vote on Aug. 30, said in a joint statement that "safety is our top priority and tests have shown the designated speed is a safe one."

Engineers with the Texas Department of Transportation studied the road prior to the commission granting approval, measuring the curvature of the road, its grade and sight lines.

In areas that received the 85-mph blessing, the SH130 is two lanes in each direction. Each lane measures 12 feet across, which exceeds the 10-foot minimum recommendation from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Still, others are worried about the impact of the road, which is slated to open no later than Nov. 11. The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing crashes, said the new speed limit threatens safety.

"There are limits to the amount of crash energy that can be managed by vehicles," the organization said in a written release. "The higher the speed, the higher the likelihood that these limits will be exceeded in crashes."

A 2009 study conducted by the American Journal of Public Health found there was a 9.1 percent increase in traffic fatalities on roads where the speed limit had been raised, and said roads with 65-mph and 75-mph limits had higher fatality rates than roads with 55-and-60-mph limits.

Officials will be closely watching what happens on the road and in the state. The number of traffic fatalities in Texas has declined from 3,351 in 2006 to 2,998 in 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Several roads in rural Texas and Utah already have 80-mph speed limits, the previous U.S. high.

Chris Lippincott, an official with the SH130 Concession Company, the private consortium that owns and operates the segment of road, said the 85-mph speed limit encourages drivers to take their safety into their own hands.

"Ultimately, highway safety is up to drivers," he said. "They can understand road conditions and weather changes."

Toll rates for the road have not yet been finalized, but it will cost at least $5 – and probably more – to drive the road. The toll rate tentatively set at 12.5 cents-per-mile in 2006 is based off the Texas gross state product, and needs to be updated to current GSP projections, according to state officials.

True to its free-flowing spirit, no toll plazas will interfere with traffic flow. Tolls will be electronically collected.

In its written release, it expressed its optimism that faster speeds would appeal to drivers seeking an escape from traffic-choked Interstate 35, which connects the same cities.

"We look forward to opening this segment of SH 130, which will help reduce congestion for the Austin/San Antonio corridor by providing Texas drivers and others with an alternate route for traveling through our great state," it said.

But the commission, part of the Texas DOT, had additional incentive to approve the 85-mph limit: Per its contract with the SH130 Concession Co., the state receives an extra $100 million over the 50-year life of the agreement if the road received the 85-mph designation.

Unofficially, the approval cements Texas' growing reputation as the U.S. speed capital. Only a mile away from the northern terminus of SH130 in the southeast Austin suburb of Mustang Ridge, workers are putting the finishing touches on the Circuit Of The Americas, the country's first purpose-built Grand Prix facility.

A short time after the official SH130 opening, the race track will host, from Nov. 16 to 18, the first Formula 1 race held in the U.S. since 2007. Adventurous auto racing fans take note: They can be among the first to drive the nation's fastest highway – and then attend one of the world's fastest races.

Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos and can be reached at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      People drive 85 mi an hour every where in america. Stay the hell in the slow lane if you can't keep up. Mexico is 75 and people do 80 to 90 anyway. Stay in the slow lane.
      • 2 Years Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      I live in the area and with the toll road being like the Autobon in Europe, high speeds are safe. It is the driver who causes accidents, not speed. You can have a fatal accident going 55. I feel that if you pay a toll to go on the road, regardless where it is, there should not even be a speed limit if a person is paying "extra" to drive on it. Our gas taxes are supposed to be paying for highways, so when a person has to go beyond the taxes, hey.........I should be able to go the speed I want.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I personally see nothing wrong with this, and think it could and should be done on many other stretches of interstate highway in many other states. I drove a 35-day cross-country vacation 5 years ago this fall (in fact, I was on it at this time 5 years ago), and it's NOT just "parts of Texas and Utah" that have 80MPH speed limits. They exist in MOST of the western states, where there are LONG stretches of flat, even highway with visibility for miles and relatively light traffic. I don't support speeds this fast in heavily congested areas. But on rural highways, MOST drivers driving anything made in the past 20 years, with decent tires, can conceivably drive safely up to even 100mph. Almost ALL of today's cars are built to handle so much better than cars of the past, and tire blowouts are almost unheard of, so the front-tire blowout that would spell almost certain death at such speeds isn't really a consideration, either. It's true that any accidents -- especially collisions -- at such speeds are quite likely to be FATAL. But that's equally true at 70-80 mph, which almost ALL states now have as their top speeds for rural interstates. As someone else posted, there's NO speed limit on much of Germany's Autobahn, and people routinely drive 150 mph or more, with VERY FEW accidents. The few there are, there are rarely survivors. But the accidents are VERY RARE. I think rather than keeping speed limits low we should require more driver training and make people re-take the driver's test every time they renew their license -- not just senior citizens, but EVERYONE. Jeff
      • 2 Years Ago
      unfortunately we have many people that are ecnomically distressed and unable to properly maintain a vehicle. Then you have the 75 year old driving a buick or pt cruiser with slobbers running down his chin and a pants full of poop who is unsafe at any speed. Contrary to what many would have us believe, I think a 'thorough' investigation of the circumstances reveals that although speed may be a factor in many fatal highway accidents, the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you can afford a high performance car and don't mind paying for the gas then go for it. Contrary to what Al Gore we do not all need to drive a Prius at 45 mph. Oh, and was that Al Gore on the cover of the National Enquirer naked in bed with John Travolta?
      • 2 Years Ago
      If there's a head-on collision you could pick up the cars and drivers with a broom and dust pan.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Let's be real people. If you've ever driven in TX, you know we drive 85 mph already. They've just made it legal!
      • 2 Years Ago
      There were already 85 mph speed limits in BOTH TX. & OK. Whats thye BFD ??
      • 2 Years Ago
      Can a Prius or Smart car even go that fast?
      • 2 Years Ago
      So I drive from West Palm Beach to Pompano Beach (FL) sor 4 times a week. I drive about 75mph sometimes abit slower sometime a bit faster...People blow my doors off aALL the time. Some simply pass me...my guess 80-85 and some whizz by me and make my windows hum 95-110.....I see cops all the time but somehow???????
      • 2 Years Ago
      Addenda: I meant to say that the interstate highway system was designed for comfort and safety at 85 MPH with 50's cars and tires.. What we have now are levels of magnitude better...
      • 2 Years Ago
      Why should the federal and state governments 'criminalize' speeding? How about 'criminalizing' vehicles with rusted out floor boards? When has a state 'criminalized' drivers for bald tires on vehicles? Is it a 'crime' in America to drive a tiny Smart car or Fiat on American roads? Since texting and cell phone use are in vogue, why aren't teens and 20 somethings being charged with accidents at 35 mph? The federal and state governments, insurance companies, vehicle companies, and gas station operators, all want higher speed limits. However, It is our responsibility as American citizens to respect life and respect other people's property.
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