For those of you who may have missed it, a semblance of sanity has returned to Central Texas.
I’m referring to the speed limit along U.S. Highway 190 / Interstate 14 — specifically the section through Harker Heights.
If you haven’t already seen them, the new signs went up last Friday near Seton Medical Center Harker Heights for eastbound drivers and near the Nola Ruth overpass for westbound motorists.
The new speed limit is a reasonable, sane 65 mph.
The old speed limit —which had been in place since last March — was a hair-raising 75 mph.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with a 75 mph speed limit, in principle. If you’re in an unpopulated area, on a long stretch of open road, 75 is just fine.
But it makes absolutely no sense in the middle of a built-up urban area.
Just take a look at some of the businesses that line the highway within the Heights city limits. There’s Seton Medical Center, Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart Supercenter, Extraco Banks, IHOP, Rooms to Go, H-E-B, two credit unions, the giant Market Heights shopping complex, and assorted mattress stores and dental offices.
Does this seem like an area where it’s a good idea to have vehicles zooming by at 75 mph?
To make matters worse, motorists are forced to accelerate rapidly from 45 to 75 in order to merge with highway traffic. Nearly as bad is the quick deceleration needed to get off on the access road.
Apparently, this Autobahn-like speed limit was the brainchild of our own Texas Department of Transportation, whose engineers felt it was a sensible option after the Killeen portion of the U.S. 190 widening project was completed earlier this year.
Well, that was just crazy talk. And Heights residents knew it, especially since the speed limit entering Killeen is only 60 mph.
Shortly after the speed got bumped up to 75, residents started contacting city council members to register their concerns. The city then passed these concerns along to TxDOT.
At the council’s request, TxDOT conducted a traffic and engineering study. Lo and behold! The department agreed the speed limit should be lowered.
TxDOT told the city an ordinance lowering the speed limit would be required — which the City Council passed in late May. But even then, TxDOT couldn’t just slap up some new signs and call it good.
The local TxDOT folks had to send a recommendation to their traffic operation division, which then went to the transportation commission.
Then the city had to wait about 60 days before the new signs could be placed along the highway.
The sign change could have happened a couple of weeks sooner, but at first the TxDOT folks only had one new sign, when they needed two — one for each direction. So the city had to wait until last Friday for this incredibly complex job to come to its successful completion.
I’m sure Bubba in the city’s street department could have knocked out a couple of decent signs in much less time and saved some of the aggravation, but they just wouldn’t have looked the same — and this is an interstate highway now, so uniformity is important.
Now that we’ve got our new, official highway signs and lower speed limit, the police chief says the department is going to give drivers a few weeks to get used to the slower speed before writing any tickets.
That’s fair, I guess, but it will make for some interesting situations if some drivers slow down to 65 while others just keep zooming along at the previous speed limit — and above.
Still, the new signs do bring back a little bit of sanity. If only our local drivers could do the same.
Dave Miller is deputy managing editor for opinion of the Killeen Daily Herald and editor of the Harker Heights Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-501-7543.