Friday, October 26, 2012

You can haul ass, just beware of the hogs

The fastest highway in America opened for business earlier this week. Those willing to pay for the privilege can now travel at speeds up to 85 miles per hour on a portion of Texas 130, a toll bypass around Austin and surrounding communities along Interstate 35. There is a catch, however: you need to watch out for feral hogs when you drive:
But the fact that hogs played a part in at least two wrecks was no surprise to many who live in the Caldwell County area, where at least two of the collisions occurred. This is hog country.

"That is a known pig route," said Caldwell County Precinct 1 Constable Victor "Smitty" Terrell, who heard one of the hog-versus-vehicle crashes on his police radio Wednesday night.

Like Texas 130 has the highest speed limit, Texas claims the largest feral hog population in the U.S. - 2.6 million - and is so problematic that the state runs a contest called the "Hog Out Challenge," in which counties compete to take the most swine by killing, trapping, snaring or capturing them "for purposes of immediate slaughter."

Whether road kill counts is unclear.

Lockhart Police Departmen Capt. John Roescher spotted at least three dead hogs on the side of Texas 130 at U.S. 183 on Thursday morning.

The sight didn't alarm him "because we're so used to seeing that around here," Roescher said.
Feral swine aside, I remember that the Texas 130 bypass was a hot topic of discussion fifteen years ago, when it was still in the planning stages and I was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. Austinites hoped that the bypass would alleviate the hopeless congestion along I-35 through the city, and some people I spoke to even argued that the bypass should be free and I-35 should be tolled in order to discourage through traffic as much as possible. That wasn't going to happen for a variety of reasons, of course, and it remains to be seen if the completion of the Texas 130 bypass and its 85 mph speed limit will have any measurable affect on traffic on I-35 between San Antonio and Georgetown. Trucks, for example, account for a large portion of through traffic on this stretch of I-35, but don't appear to be too keen on using the new bypass:
Truckers will pay more than $24, but the American Trucking Association has called the road unsafe for truck traffic. Last month, the Arlington, Va.-based organization urged the Texas Transportation Commission to reverse its decision to allow an 85 mph speed limit and cautioned other states not to follow the example.

Truck driver Mike Wilsontold KVUE-TV of Austin his truck won't even go 85. "It's governed out at 75," he said. Another trucker, James Regenauer, told the station, "Anytime you got two different speeds set for two different vehicles on the same road — you know what I mean? It's going to cause a problem."
For now, this 41-mile stretch of Texas 130 is the only place in the country where vehicles can legally travel at 85 miles per hour. There was talk in the last legislative session of raising speed limits on certain west Texas highways to 85 mph as well, but so far there's been no further movement on that front.

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