By Kathi Bliss
Caldwell County commuters rejoiced late last week when the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced that the “speed study” has been completed, and that speed limits on much of Highway 183 will be restored.
The taxpayer-funded highway, now referred to in northern Caldwell County as “the service road for SH130” has been at the center of a firestorm since the controversial tollway opened in late 2012. Despite promises from SH130’s management company and from TxDOT that traffic on Highway 183 would not be impeded by the toll road, the speed limit was decreased to 50 and 55 mph in an area that had historically been set at 65 mph.
The change spurred outcry from the community, who insisted that Highway 183 was safer now, because instead of a four-lane, undivided highway, it was now divided, and accused TxDOT and the SH130 Concession Company of reducing the speed limit in an effort to drive commuter traffic on to the toll road, which currently has the highest speed limit (85 mph) in the nation.
Several local commuters organized a social media assault on TxDOT and the SH130 Concession Company, demanding that the speed limit be restored, and Caldwell County Judge Tom Bonn kept the issue at the forefront in political circles, testifying to everyone from the Capitol Area Regional Transportation Organization (CARTPO) to the Texas Transportation Commission about the negative impacts of the decreased speed limit on Caldwell County’s commuter population.
“You have to give Judge Bonn his due, because he’s the one that kept this thing on the front burner,” Lockhart Mayor Lew White said on Wednesday morning. “And the fact that they brought the speed limits back up is going to do nothing but help Lockhart and Caldwell County in the future.”
Bonn himself could not immediately be reached for comment, but had released a statement through Caldwell County’s website, www.co.caldwell.tx.us, announcing the increase on Thursday afternoon, not long after TxDOT entered the decision.
The change impacts the “service roads” from the Maple Street exit, in Lockhart, to the Mustang Ridge city limits, where the speed limit on Highway 183 will be increased to 65 mph. Inside the Mustang Ridge city limits, the speed limit will be 60 mph. However, commuters are reminded that the posted speed limits will remain in place until new signs are posted.
TxDOT expects to have the new signs posted later this month.
Social media outlets came alive this weekend with discussion about the increases, with an overwhelming response of communters and residents who are pleased with TxDOT’s decision.
Still, many drivers still remain skeptical of TxDOT and the SH130 Concession Company and their motives toward Caldwell County commuters. Indeed, many wondered how long it will be before the traffic signals, currently either inactive or set as flashing lights, will be activated as stop lights, in what some accuse is a renewed effort to drive commuter traffic to the toll road. No official announcement has been made on plans to engage the traffic control signals at this time, but both TxDOT and the SH130 Concession Company have stated in the past that it remains a possibility, as traffic patterns continue to establish themselves in the area.