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Texas opens toll road with 85 mph speed limit, highest in US

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times –

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas prides itself on being the biggest — now it’s also the fastest.

On Wednesday, a newly constructed toll road opened about 20 miles south of Austin with a speed limit higher than any other roadway in the nation: 85 mph.

Zayonara Menchaca, 29, who manages Pitchers bar along the new highway in Mustang Ridge, was excited, saying it would speed her commute from Pflugerville about 30 miles north.

But she said the small town, population 860, is unprepared for the expected influx of traffic, both from speed fans on the new highway and those headed to the new F1 racetrack, Circuit of the Americas, which opened last weekend and plans to host the Formula One US Grand Prix on Nov. 18.

“I feel like we’re being thrown into the ring without gloves,” she said, pointing across a field to the highway in the distance.

The statewide speed limit is still 70 mph. Texas already had some 80 mph highways — as does Utah along Interstate 15 — but they were in remote, flat stretches of West Texas, not the capital’s hilly southern suburbs.

The new 41-mile highway, dubbed “Pickle Parkway” for the late local Democratic U.S. Rep J.J. “Jake” Pickle, running west toward San Antonio will probably absorb commuters avoiding the congested Interstate 35 loop around Austin.

Advocates say faster roads make sense in a state the size of Texas, where it takes more than 10 hours to drive from Houston to El Paso.

But members of the Governors Highway Safety Association and some residents have expressed concern about speeding and traffic accidents along the new four-lane toll road between Seguin and Mustang Ridge, free to drivers until Nov. 11.

Last year 3,040 people were killed on Texas roads, a higher fatality rate than the national average.

The thrill of the new highway has more to do with avoiding gridlock than playing autobahn, supporters say.

“After a long day’s work, I don’t want to sit in traffic,” said Rudy De La Rosa, 59, who owns a concrete construction company.

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