Houston DOT to use clean diesel: 55 mph repeal desired result -- OOIDA incredulous

| 6/6/2002

Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday ordered the Texas Department of Transportation to use clean diesel in its Houston-area fleet in an apparent effort to bolster the case for repealing the unpopular 55 mph speed limit, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Burning emulsified diesel in 75 percent of the department's Houston vehicles could result in significant reductions in emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides, the paper said. In turn, those reductions may be enough to allow state environmental officials to suspend the 55 mph limit for cars and light trucks, an unpopular provision in the federal clean air plan for ozone by 2007. Trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds will still have to abide by the 55 mph limit.

The measure announced by Perry and transportation officials provides the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission with the flexibility it needs to tinker with the plan, the governor said.

"It is absolutely shocking that the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission would actually consider a measure that would make Houston highways more dangerous to avoid public pressure over environmental regulations," said Todd Spencer, vice president, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. "In terms of highway safety, the very last thing public officials should be advocating is setting different speed limits for different classes of vehicles using the same roads.

Highways will always be safest when all vehicles are traveling at the same speed. This reality has been confirmed numerous times over the past three decades."

Spencer said a study done by the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Austin found that having trucks travel as little as 5 mph slower than cars nearly doubles the likelihood of a crash. And an increase in the speed variance between cars and trucks to 15 mph (as is being proposed) increases the likelihood of a highway crash by a factor of nine, the study said.

However, the governor would like it if more agencies, such as school districts, county governments, city governments and public transportation entities can be persuaded to follow suit. He said reductions of as much as 20 tons per day of nitrogen oxide emissions could be feasible by 2007 if this were to happen. The department will monitor the program, which aims to have the entire fleet in the Houston-Beaumont region on clean diesel by November.

"While local environmental officials may have a real hot potato on their hands for now, the responsible solution is not to turn trucks into rolling roadblocks on metropolitan highways," Spencer said.

--Dick Larsen, senior editor