Many motorists on U.S. 24 between 31st Street and South 8th Street haven't been driving the speed limit. They've been going much faster than the 45 mph that's been posted since the highway opened in the mid-'60s.
A recent speed study showed 85 out of 100 vehicles, on average, were traveling 55 to 60 mph, said Bob Wilson, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman.
CDOT decided to go with the flow.
On Thursday, new speed limit signs of 55 mph appeared on the highway in both eastbound and westbound directions. Flashing LED signs inform drivers of the new and permanent change.
"We had some inquiries about the low speed limits on Highway 24, so we initiated the traffic study, which showed traffic was traveling faster than the posted limits, on average," Wilson said.
Not everyone thinks that raising the limit is a good idea, though.
"I'm surprised and disturbed they arbitrarily decided to do that without talking to the neighborhood or elected officials," said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who represents the area and owns a nearby small business.
"I realize people drive faster, but I'm not sure that's the safest thing to do, especially in that corridor with all the flooding we've had. I think it's too fast."
CDOT doesn't conduct a public process when it considers increasing or decreasing speed limits, Wilson said.
"Sometimes we get complaints when we raise the limit, but overwhelmingly the reaction is positive, not negative," he said.
It's not uncommon for CDOT to adjust traffic speeds, he added. When Interstate 25 was widened through Colorado Springs, the speed limit increased from 55 mph to 65 mph.
But the shift usually coincides with an expansion project. While U.S. 24 has been in the pipeline for years to be expanded, an environmental assessment is in the works, Wilson said, so additional lanes won't be built for a while.
Between 34,000 to 46,000 vehicles a day travel on that stretch of Highway 24, he said, with more vehicles as the roadway nears I-25.
The speed limit approaching the stoplight at South 8th Street remains at 35 mph.
Wilson said Colorado Springs police has been notified of the change, and Colorado Springs traffic engineers adjusted the timing of the signals to give more time for stopping from a higher speed.