Summer driving season is here. For many motorists, that means hours spent crawling along parched beach highways or getting stuck behind slow-moving RVs in national parks. But on a few stretches of road around the country, drivers will stomp their accelerators and traffic will move at sustained speeds of 90 miles per hour or more.
America's fastest road: northbound Arizona Route 79 between Saguaro National Park and Phoenix. On this stretch — two lanes wide and almost completely straight for its entire 39-mile length — the fastest drivers routinely reach speeds of 87 to 90 miles per hour. That's according to traffic data firm Inrix, which measures speeds using GPS data from commercial vehicles. The top speed that Inrix has clocked this year on Route 79: 115 miles per hour.
"It's still the wild, wild West when it comes to America's fastest roads," says Inrix spokesman Jim Bak. Eight of the country's 10 fastest roads are in California, Arizona, Utah and Idaho. Two are on the East Coast.
Local cops are well aware of the Route 79's tendency to draw fast drivers. "We see a lot of speed there because it's a really desolate, open road," says Sgt. Matthew Thomas, supervisor of the traffic enforcement unit at the sheriff's office of Pinal County, which contains the highest-speed stretch of Route 79. "On those straightaways we see the highest-speed crashes, too. Head-ons, rollovers, and so forth. We see a lot of fatalities on roads like that."
To find America's fastest roads, Inrix first looked for stretches of roadway where motorists routinely drive fast, then it found the speed range at which each roadway's fastest 5 percent of drivers travel. Inrix multiplied that figure by the length of each roadway to make the final ranking. The result is a list of roads where drivers open their throttles over fairly long distances.
Inrix counts the same road separately in different travel directions; the second-fastest road is also Arizona Route 79, heading southbound.
Arizona also claims the third-fastest road: Route 77, which follows a narrow strip of green terrain alongside the San Pedro River as it winds through the desert. The speed limit on open sections of the road varies between 45 and 65 miles per hour, but drivers routinely travel at 85 miles per hour through the mining lands between the towns of Winkelman and Oracle.
Where Route 77 continues beyond the town of Oracle, it becomes the country's fifth-fastest road. Here, Inrix has clocked commercial vehicles traveling as fast as 120 miles per hour, and many drivers travel the stretch at 85 miles per hour.
In fourth place: U.S. Route 191 in Utah, which runs across flat scrublands between majestic red cliffs. The road bends just five times in the 21 miles north of the Arizona border, and drivers have noticed that the straightaways lend plenty of room for acceleration. The fastest 5 percnet of them travel the road at sustained speeds of 88 to 90 miles per hour.
For the most part, America's fastest roads are straight and flat, crossing isolated deserts in the West. But urban areas see some fast drivers, too. The fastest road near an urban area is California Route 73, a six-lane freeway in Orange County that connects Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano through the San Joaquin Hills. While the speed limit on that stretch is 65 miles per hour, the fastest 5% of drivers average speeds around 82 miles per hour over 17 miles of roadway.
Inrix's statistics also show that New Yorkers really do drive fast. The Westchester County suburbs of New York City are home to the fastest road in the eastern U.S. — and one of only two East Coast roads that made the list. Drivers on the winding, heavily traveled Saw Mill River Parkway frequently reach speeds of 78 to 85 miles per hour between the towns of Elmsford and Hawthorne, despite the 50-mile-per-hour speed limit.
Connecticut has the fastest stretch of Interstate highway in the country, according to Inrix. Over a one-mile distance on Interstate 84 northeast of Hartford, the fastest 5 percent of drivers routinely flaunt the 65-mile-per-hour speed limit by driving 85 miles per hour.