AUSTIN (KXAN) — Beginning Friday, a new law will authorize the Texas Department of Transportation to temporarily change speed limits during roadway construction or inclement weather without statewide approval.
House Bill 1885, authored by State Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), allows variable speed limits to be used “to address inclement weather, congestion, road construction, or any other condition that affects the safe and orderly movement on traffic on a roadway for which the commission has the authority to establish a speed limit.”
Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law back in June. Prior to this new law, TxDOT engineers were required to seek approval from the Texas Transportation Commission before issuing any temporary speed limit changes.
Canales told The Texas Tribune earlier this month that he believed this legislation could have prevented the deadly Interstate 35W 133-vehicle pile up in February 2021 that left six people dead.
“That’s an instance when we know there were conditions that led to a catastrophic pileup,” Canales said in his interview with The Texas Tribune. “It was studied by the federal government and the national highway agency, and ultimately their findings were that variable speed limits could have mitigated and completely prevented this accident from happening.”
Per legislative documents, the variable speed limits are not permitted to “divert traffic to a toll road for the purpose of increasing revenue from toll charges.” Any temporary speed limit changes “may be displayed using a stationary or portable changeable message sign,” per documents.
The temporary speed limit may only be reduced up to 10 miles per hour below the standard speed limit, in response to inclement weather conditions or roadway construction, per the final bill version.
Documents add the variable speed limit is only effective “when the speed limit is posted and only if a sign notifying motorists of the change in speed limit is posted not less than 500 feet but not more than 1,000 feet before the point at which the speed limit begins.”
A spokesperson for TxDOT told KXAN the state agency “will identify locations across the state where drivers face routine challenges like congestion and install permanent changeable speed signs that can display reduced speed limits when needed.” The spokesperson added that slight reduction can assist in reducing stop and go traffic, rear end collisions and other traffic issues.
TxDOT will also utilize permanent changeable speed signs that are digitized and can be used in temporary traffic situations like inclement weather, road construction, crashes or hazardous material spills, the spokesperson added. However, those variable speed limit changes won’t display on GPS navigation drivers might be using, so motorists should exercise caution and be mindful of any signs indicating a speed change.