Fifteen miles south of Austin on the State Highway 183, drivers pass a sign that reads "Mustang Ridge (Pop. 785)," catch the faint whiff of smoking brisket wafting from nearby Lockhart, and merge onto the fastest stretch of highway in America. The road, a 41-mile stretch of Texas Tollway 130 that runs to the outskirts of the small city of Seguin, opened amid a storm of press reports last October and immediately gained notoriety for its 85 mph speed limit, which the private consortium that built and operated the road hoped would increase traffic and toll revenue (the company paid the state $100 million for agreeing to it) and decongest the I-35 between the booming cities of Austin and San Antonio.

From a business perspective, the road has been a failure, attracting only some 3,000 vehicles per day. From a driving perspective 130 is an unmitigated success: Dropping into fourth, listening to your engine rev, and kicking it up to 90 mph is standard operating procedure for motorists bombing down this river pristine asphalt. The empty road can seem like a racetrack as it cuts through fields of dandelions and pastures decorated with arthritic oaks, and the paucity of traffic means drivers can take full advantage of steeply banked curves and long straightaways, making the hefty pay-by-mail toll of $6.17 worth the price of admission.