In terms of scenic interest, it is as disappointing as a mild chilli pepper in a bowl of Tex-Mex…

KM Texas Autobahn 01

Austin, Texas…

Road hogs are a common sight at dusk here on the so-called Texas autobahn.

I’m not talking about those crazy drivers transported by four-wheeled vehicles, but those of the four-legged variety… boars!

And just like their two-legged, lead-footed brethren, the cloven-hoofed wild pigs cause crashes – four bad smashes on the first night that the high speed State Highway 130 toll road opened back in October, 2012.

Last week, I wrote about a drive on the no-speed limit autobahn from Munich to Berlin. The piece was prompted by the recent Insights West/Black Press poll about increasing speed limits on highways in BC. I just had to try out the North American equivalent of the autobahn with its 85 mph limit (approximately 137 km/h) and here are my observations.

After driving a sporty Audi S6 on the toll highway from Austin on a day trip to San Antonio, I think there must have been more boars than cars on the route for long stretches. It was a lonely daytime drive in the S6 with very few cars passing in either direction. In terms of scenic interest, it’s as disappointing as a mild chilli pepper in a bowl of Tex-Mex.

It’s not that the tolls are high on the 65-kilometre stretch I travelled on the 210-kilometre route – less than $10, under $30 for commercial trucks. But the 85 mph limit is just not fast enough to encourage people to use it for what is a fairly short distance between those two major centres. And that’s especially so, when the posted speed limit on the regular toll-free state highways was raised to 75 mph (120 km/h) shortly after the turnpike was opened. The main section is also well to the east of Austin so there was a trek before I could unleash the horses under the hood.

It would help to hike the limit another 10 mph (16 km/h): It’s a very well-engineered road and I can’t see that causing carnage. At the risk of attracting the interest of a Texan posse bent on a hanging, I might suggest that a reduction of the limit in the same magnitude on the regular highways might dramatically increase custom along the way.

The only positive I can say is that I maintained the top legal speed for the length of the trip, which, as I reported last week, was impossible on the congested “no-speed limit” autobahn between Munich and Berlin.

The growing network of toll roads in central Texas may have the highest speed limits in the nation but unless they ultimately stretch to Houston and/or Corpus Christi on the Gulf coast, it’s hard to imagine the operators emerging from the billion-dollar financial quagmire.

The Department of Transportation has ended a rebate that had allowed trucks to use the road for the same price as cars since last April.

That disincentive is likely to increase the red ink.

Contact: keith [dot] morgan [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

KM Feral Hogs

I wound up the A6 to 200 km/h for less than a minute and shortly after I managed to hit 220 km/h but that lasted all of 20 seconds…

The Audi A6 on the German Autobahn/Fahraufnahme
The Audi A6 on the German Autobahn/Fahraufnahme
The Autobahn, from above...
The Autobahn, from above…

Much motoring mythology surrounds Germany’s speed limitless autobahns.

Many readers who favour an increase in posted limits on our freeways point to the superbly engineered German highways as the example to follow. The latest round of praise follows the recent Insights West poll conducted for Black Press that found 37 per cent back increased limits on routes such as the Coquihalla Highway. And doubtless BC Transportation Minister Todd Stone will hear the same in his review of highway speed limits during the eight regional public forums being held this month.

Hate to be a party pooper but today’s autobahns really don’t live up to their past reputation. They are excellent to drive but if you expect to cruise along at 250 km/h for the duration of a multi-hour journey you will be disappointed. In recent years, I’ve driven thousands of kilometres along high-speed freeways throughout Europe while attending launches for a variety of high-powered cars.

One of the most memorable trips I drove was the 585 kilometres between Munich and Berlin, which I covered in an Audi A6, with a 2.8-litre V6 generating 207 horsepower under the hood. Just like Vancouver, Munich is a thriving city and there’s congestion with a capital C even on the A9 autobahn. The queues continue even 30 kms outside of the city but it must be said that they move at a uniform speed of 100 km/h!

To say there are no speed limits is inaccurate: I encountered city areas where the maximum was 120 km/h overnight between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. There are also restrictions in motorcycles, large trucks and cars towing trailers.

What I find most interesting was the unwritten rule, which, while it can’t be enforced, if you disobey it and are involved in a collision it may cost you. Say what? – The advisory speed limit under this “rule” is 130 km/h, referred to in German as the Richtgeschwindigkeit. Smash up at a higher speed and you could be found partially responsible due to “increased operating danger”.

Within an hour, I was comfortable with the car and itching to let it go. It seemed to be tugging to the right at one point but that was near the car’s birthplace at Ingolstadt. On the other hand, it could have been a crosswind.

You can only pass another car in the left lane. The right lane is for slower vehicles so you risk a ticket if you pass on the right at any speed. That threat didn’t seem to worry too many in the approaches to the various urban areas along the way.

As the traffic thinned, I wound up the A6 to 200 km/h for less than a minute and shortly after I managed to hit 220 km/h but that lasted all of 20 seconds.  I managed to do 180 km/h for about three minutes before slowing to 140 for a sustained period of around 20 minutes. Europe is full and nowhere is that more evident than on the roads. I found 120 km/h was more easily achieved for most of the journey and seemed to be more typical a speed for most.

From Munich city limits to Berlin it took me around 5 hours 30 minutes, which means I averaged about 105 km/h. Pretty good but not the 200 km/h many think you can do.

There’s the reality check:

Generally, I agree that some of our freeways could stand a slight increase in the posted limit, especially in the rural areas where drivers would likely be able to maintain the top speed more easily than on the theoretically speed limitless autobahn.

Next week: The so-called Texas Autobahn.

keith [dot] morgan [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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