On an icy February morning in 2021, slippery roads and limited visibility prompted a chain reaction of crashing cars on Interstate 35W in Fort Worth, eventually leading to a pileup of 133 vehicles that left six people dead. State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg believes a bill he authored - going into effect Sept. 1 - could have prevented that.
“That’s an instance when we know there were conditions that led to a catastrophic pileup,” Canales said. “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.”
House Bill 1885, signed into law this June, empowers local Texas Department of Transportation engineers - without approval from the statewide transportation commissioners - to temporarily change speed limits for a portion of a road or highway. The variable speed limit can be applied during roadway construction and maintenance, as well as inclement weather conditions like heavy fog, ice, or rain. The altered speed limit would be in effect only when it’s posted on signs notifying drivers of the change and it can’t be lower than 10 miles under the regular speed limit.
“If we’re not able to alter or modify the speed limit to reflect the current conditions, safety is in jeopardy,” Canales stated. Canales also said there are a variety of mechanisms to notify drivers of the changing speed limit.
“It could be a mobile digital sign that you see, oftentimes used on a trailer, it could be on any of the TxDOT signs, it could actually be a physical sign that is laid over one of the original - it’s whatever communicates to the drivers speed limit change as per state law,” Canales said.