Texas seeks speed hike for Houston; truckers included

| 9/18/2002

Texas' environmental agency asked the feds Monday for the go-ahead to suspend the 55-mph speed limit on Houston-area highways with limits of 60 mph and 65 mph for all vehicles, including commercial vehicles. The speed limit was lowered to 55 mph in May to help bring the eight-county Houston-Galveston region into compliance with health standards by 2007.

After the lower speeds were written into the plan to clean up the region's air, the Environmental Protection Agency released data showing that vehicles traveling 55 mph did not significantly reduce smog-producing nitrogen oxide emissions. At the urging of state and local officials, the EPA in June approved a recommendation to roll back the 55-mph limit for cars and light trucks but continue to limit heavy-duty vehicles.

Jeff Saitas, the outgoing executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, told the Houston Chronicle that issues arose almost immediately on the proposal, focusing on how safe it was to have dual speed limits on the freeways, and on whether the transportation agency had the legal authority to impose them.

"There was a real safety issue," Saitas said. "I couldn't in my heart sit down and recommend a proposal where it was possible somebody could get hurt because of a differentiated speed limit. I wouldn't want that to be on my conscience."

Currently, under the proposal sent to the agency, speed limits on roads with 70-mph limits before the 55-mph limit took affect would be set at 65 mph. Roads with previous limits of 65 mph would be set at 60 mph.

In 2005, the speed limit reportedly would revert to 55 mph in the region unless other emission reductions can be made.

The proposal must be approved by the state's three-member environmental commission at its meeting Sept. 25, be submitted for EPA approval and then sent to the commissioners at the Texas transportation department. If approved, TxDOT will set the timetable for the speed limit change.