Lawmakers to reduce fines in Texas 'environmental speed zones'

| Friday, February 28, 2003

A bill sponsored by several Texas lawmakers would drop speeding fines to $25 on Houston-area roads where the speed limits were lowered because of a regional plan to reduce air pollution, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The bill would apply anywhere where speed limits are lowered for pollution reasons, including the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It also would keep those tickets off a driver's record, which can trigger higher auto insurance rates.

Republican Reps. Dennis Bonnen of Angleton and Gary Elkins and Debbie Riddle of Houston contend that if the Texas Department of Transportation has determined that 70 mph is safe, drivers should not be penalized for exceeding an artificially low limit.

"It's an environmental speed zone they've created, and I believe we should call it what it is," Bonnen said. "It's basically at that point just a clean-air infraction. It's not a speeding infraction."

Speed limits were lowered in the environmental plan on virtually every highway in Harris, Brazoria, Fort Bend, Waller, Montgomery, Liberty, Chambers and Galveston counties. However, drivers going more than 20 mph over the limit would not benefit from the proposed reduced fine.

Legislators backing the bill say area highways have already been deemed safe for higher speed limits and the lower limits were not set for safety concerns.

Environmentalists, however, support the state clean air plan that led to the lowering of the speed limit and oppose the legislation, filed as HB1001.

In December 2000, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, since renamed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, initiated a clean air program affecting eight counties in the Houston metropolitan area. The program included lowering the speed limit to reduce emissions.

Last year, the TCEQ capped speed limits at 55 mph but then raised some back to as high as 65 mph after a public outcry. The 70 mph limit prevalent on many area roads before the change has not returned. Last November, an Austin state court struck down a challenge to the clean air plan by Brazoria County, which filed a lawsuit seeking to restore the 70 mph speed limit.

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