Update, 4:10 p.m.:
Toll rates for the new stretch of Texas 130 under construction will be set and announced "very quickly," said Chris Lippincott, spokesman for the SH 130 Concession Company, the private consortium building the new toll road.
The Texas Department of Transportation has expressed hope that the higher speed limit on the toll road will ultimately draw a significant number of drivers away from congested roads in Austin and San Antonio.
"Safety is our top priority and tests have shown the designated speed is a safe one," said Mark Cross, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation. "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."
Texas is set to get a new bragging right: the fastest speed limit in the country.
The Texas Department of Transportation has approved an 85 mph speed limit for an upcoming 40-mile stretch of Texas 130 from Austin to Seguin. Currently, no road in the country has a posted speed limit faster than 80 mph. An 85 mph designation would give the new toll road the fastest speed limit in the Western Hemisphere, according to some reports.
In 2011, the Legislature gave TxDOT the authority to grant an 85 mph speed limit to roads designed to accommodate that speed. Last week, following engineering and traffic studies conducted by TxDOT, the Transportation Commission authorized speed limits of up to 85 mph on the road.
The new stretch of Texas 130 (known officially as Segments 5 and 6) is being built by a private consortium led by Spanish-based toll road firm Cintra. The firm has spent $1.3 billion to design and build the road and collect the tolls on the road for 50 years, though TxDOT retains ownership of the road. Under TxDOT's contract with the SH 130 Concession Company, the firm had to pay TxDOT an extra $67 million if the new road received an 80 mph speed limit. If the road received the coveted 85 mph speed limit, TxDOT’s bonus jumped to $100 million.
"The Texas Department of Transportation has determined that SH 130 Segments 5 and 6 may be safely traveled at 85 miles per hour," said Chris Lippincott, spokesman for the SH 130 Concession Company. "We are committed to operating a safe, reliable highway for our customers. On any road, drivers hold the key to safety based on traffic, travel conditions and the capabilities of their own vehicles.”
The toll road is scheduled to open Nov. 11, but Lippincott has said the road may open sooner.
Since last year, the possibility that TxDOT might allow an 85 mph speed limits in the state has prompted concerns about safety.
“As the accidents pile up on 85 mph roads, so too will insurance claims,” David Snyder with the American Insurance Association wrote in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram opinion column last year. “That will lead to increased insurance costs.”