Political pressure may trump Houston anti-smog speed limits

| 6/4/2002

Public outcry over the new 55 mph speed limit on the Houston area's freeways has state environmental regulators backpeddling on their ambitious plan to eliminate smog by curbing leadfooted drivers. Officials will hear all about it in a meeting Wednesday in Austin.

On May 31, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission reversed its stance on a recently-enacted plan intended to clean up the city's pollution by slowing down traffic. An enormous show of negative response from Texas motorists prompted the TNRCC to back off this particular plan to comply with air standards and try to devise something less annoying. The commission is now proposing that 70 mph be restored for cars and light trucks while continuing to rein in heavy trucks at 55 mph, creating a 15 mph differential.

"While we certainly think its appropriate for officials to respond to the unpopularity of the measure, the appropriate response should not be to create hazardous driving conditions," says Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA).

Spencer points out that 70 mph for cars and 55 mph for trucks creates a seriously dangerous speed variance. The association urges Texas truckers and those motorists placed at risk by the split speeds to contact the TNRCC and the Department of Transportation immediately.

Alan Clark, transportation and air quality planning manager for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, said there were some safety concerns about a dual speed limit, but that there were also inherent problems in imposing an unpopular burden on local drivers. On Friday (May 31), the Houston Chronicle quoted Clark, "I would say that measures which have an effect on the travel behavior of people residing here are generally more difficult to achieve compliance with."

The proposal must be adopted by the commissioners of the Texas conservation commission, who are expected to take up the issue at their meeting in Austin on Wednesday, June 5, the same day that kicks off the period of public commentary. Carol Rawson, deputy director of traffic operations at TxDOT, says eventually, whatever happens, the proposals will go to the three DOT commissioners on the Transportation Commission. Rawson says truckers are welcome to contact these three commissioners with their views.

The three commissioners are Johnny Johnson, Robert Nichols and Ric Williams. The address is 125 E. 11th St., Austin, TX 78701.

The TNRCC says they are also ready to accept written comments and the following email address will be activated beginning June 5 to receive comments regarding the proposed revisions to the Houston/Galveston Area State Implementation Plan (SIP): siprules@tnrcc.state.tx.us

"State regulators certainly should look at speed limits that recently went into effect," says Spencer, "but should NOT resolve this by turning metropolitan freeways into bumper car tracks.

--Sandi Soendker, managing editor