Like “Lonesome Dove,” the story of speed limits in Texas could be a TV series. Only crazier.
Let’s go back to late fall 1996. At that time, OOIDA headquarters was housed in a remodeled truck stop at Exit 24 in Grain Valley, MO.
The national speed limit had been eliminated in 1995, and it was up to the states to set their own. OOIDA had lobbied hard, along with the National Motorists Association, to get rid of 55. ATA was hellbent against it, preaching that eliminating the national limit would be a disaster. After the double nickel was history, OOIDA set its sights on convincing state lawmakers that uniform speed limits were vital to highway safety.
One of those states with split speeds was Texas. The Texas legislature was scheduled to convene in 1997, and that would be OOIDA’s first opportunity to convince Lone Star lawmakers to get rid of the differential. If the issue did not make it to the legislators, it would be another two years that truckers would be saddled with a dangerous speed variance – nearly four years after the national speed limit was eliminated.
A number of Texas members (T.G. Swarb, Bill Harwell, John Hill, Clifford Floeck and Charles Holman were a few that I remember, along with Frank Owen) worked hard with their representatives to see that the issue of truck speeds came up in the legislature in ’97. Clifford, as I recall, virtually camped out in Austin. And Holman, a bullhauler – well, he never did know the meaning of quit.
OOIDA’s Todd Spencer wrote to OOIDA members in the January/February 1997 Land Line: “Achieving uniform speed limits in Texas will be an extremely difficult battle. Are you in it for the long haul?”
It would be a long haul, for sure. Our members pounded their lawmakers and wrote letters to then Gov. George W. Bush. OOIDA found a sympathetic ear with Texas Rep. Anna Mowrey. She filed a House bill that was approved by the Texas Transportation Committee and felt sure the bill would go on to the floor and pass. She continued her tireless effort until the last possible moment. After her original bill missed a scheduling deadline, she succeeded in attaching a uniform car/truck amendment to a Senate bill as it came up for a vote in the House.
Back in Grain Valley, we were all on pins and needles. The Senate bill passed the House with Mowrey’s amendment and then went to House-Senate conference committee. We went home from the office not knowing the outcome – but things looked good and someone said the beer was in the fridge. The next day we were ecstatic to read the AP news and Texas news reports claiming that split speed limits for cars and trucks had been voted out, eliminated. For a few hours, we were on cloud nine. Then the bad news. The news reports were WRONG.
Lawmakers had left the split speed vote for the last item of the day and the last vote of the session. It seems that the Associated Press reporter who covered it left before the vote. He must have thought it was a sure thing, and he had a deadline to meet. The reporter grabbed up the amended version of Mowrey’s bill instead of the version that was voted down after he left and then signed by Gov. Bush. The speed limit part of the bill? It had, in fact, been yanked at the last minute.
I clearly remember that day. What a disappointment. What happened? In spite of all the last-minute faxes, calls, letters from Texas truckers – the lawmakers voted with the bill’s author, Sen. Chris Harris to strip Mowrey’s amendment. We were flabbergasted. Mowrey had met with Gov. Bush and came away with the assurance that if the bill made it to his desk, he would sign it.
Then why did they flip at the last minute and strip the bill? It remained murky. We later found out it could have been due to a last-minute letter from the commissioner of the Texas DOT who said increasing the speed limit on 18-wheelers was not a wise thing to do in his opinion.
Two years later, we were back at it and Todd and other OOIDA members were again beating a path to Austin. One of our most persistent fighters was Charles Holman. Sadly, he succumbed to cancer before we had a chance to do battle with split speeds again.
Todd met with Rep. Carl Isett of Lubbock, who filed a bill to eliminate the split speeds for cars and trucks. Mowrey co-sponsored it. Sen. Teel Bivins introduced the Senate bill, and it passed. The measure was approved by both houses, but there was a snag over some details and it went back to conference committee.
That committee ended up restricting trucks to 60 on farm-to-market and ranch roads during the day and 55 at night. But at OOIDA, it was a victory. Split speeds were mostly gone. I remember we did a full page ad in Land Line saying “THANK YOU TEXAS OOIDA MEMBERS!”
Fast forward to 2011. In today’s news, State Legislative Editor Keith Goble reports on a big speed limit update in Texas. Starting Sept. 1, there will no longer be a distinction between daytime and nighttime speeds, as well as a slower speed for trucks. All vehicles will be allowed to travel the same speed regardless of the time of day.
At last, 12 years after the battle began, it’s the complete elimination of split speeds on Texas roads.
So – is there any beer in the fridge?