TODAY   |  October 24, 2012

At 85 mph, fastest highway in the US opens

State Road 130, a 40-mile stretch of road in Texas between Austin and San Antonio, allows drivers to push their cars, vans and trucks to 85 miles an hour. NBC’s Janet Shamlian reports.

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>> meantime, fastest highway in america, a stretch of road where drivers can go 85 miles per hour and some people are already raising serious safety concerns. nbc's janet shamlian has more on this. janet, good morning to you.

>> reporter: good morning to you. you've heard the phrase everything is bigger in texas. now it's faster, too, at least in terms of the speed limit . now to put that in perspective 85 miles per hour is the wind speed of a category 1 hurricane, and that is going to be the legal limit, the fastest in the nation on this stretch of road in just a few hours. driving fast is an american tradition. in fact, many consider putting their pedal to the metal a right, just like the pursuit of happiness. speed demons have been limited to 65 or 75 miles per hour. that is, until now. starting today a 40-mile stretch of road between austin and san antonio will allow drivers to push their cars, advance and trucks to 85 miles an hour legally.

>> it's texas. i don't see anything wrong with it. it's a safe road.

>> reporter: in addition to being the fastest highway in america, state road 130 has another distinction. it's a toll road built with both public and private funds. almost $1.5 billion. the builder, which shares the toll money with the state, is betting commuters that upward growing congestion on nearby i-35 will happily pay up.

>> reporter: interstate 35 between austin and san antonio has gone from reliable to unreliable to reliably bad.

>> reporter: for years congress mandate the a 55-mile-an-hour speed limit . after an oil embargo by opec in 1973 led to sky-high gas prices are shortages and long lines, it was believed driving 55 would save gas, but that didn't turn out to be the case. then, as now, advocates of lower speed limits maintain driving slower is safer.

>> going faster increases the number of crashes. it increases the number of serious injuries in those crashes and the number of deaths, so one question we have to ask ourselves is how many deaths is too many?

>> reporter: still, traffic fatalities nationally have been edging lower in recent years, and according to preliminary data number of people who died in vehicle accidents last year is the lowest since 1949 . builders of the new road say driving at 85 on their highway will be safe if drivers act responsibly.

>> everybody's got to put away their cell phone and keep their seat belt fastened and use the left lane only for passing.

>> reporter: not everyone is convinced.

>> i think it's stupid. going 85 out here. what's going to happen? more wrecks. they already drive like idiots out here.

>> reporter: a lot of texans will tell you there are many roads where drivers routinely already drive 85 miles an hour or faster, but this is going to be the first legal speed limit that high, and it's expected to have a ripple effect across the country as other states look to raise the speed limit on their toll roads as a way of raising more money. savannah, back to you.

>> janet shamlian , thank you.

>>> still ahead, kennedy cousin and convicted murder michael skakel with his first parole hearing. does he have a chance to get out? and she wore