New highway speed limit faster than future plans call for

       Capping an eight-year study that cost over $8 million, the Colorado Depart-ment of Transportation (CDOT) completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) last year for Westside Highway 24 that includes proposals for lane additions and interchanges.

A 55-mph sign faces westbound traffic just west of Eighth Street.
Westside Pioneer photo

       As an offshoot of those planned upgrades between Eighth Street and Ridge Road, the EA calls for a future speed limit of 50 mph.
       Last week, after a separate study, CDOT increased the current speed limit between 8th and 31st streets from 45 to 55 mph. Crews installed the faster signs last week (except that eastbound highway traffic approaching Eighth Street still sees reduced-speed signs east of 14th).
       The limit on the less-urban section west of 31st had been raised from 50 to 55 last year, according to Bob Wilson, a CDOT spokesperson.
       He said the 8th-to-31st change followed a speed study there by a CDOT traffic unit from Denver, with the final decision by CDOT's Region 2 Traffic office in Pueblo.
       In answer to a question, Wilson said he did not have enough information to reconcile the speed study with the EA, but has learned that the Denver-Pueblo CDOT group did not consult with CDOT's resident engineer for Highway 24, who is stationed in Colorado Springs and has led the EA effort.
       The study was implemented in response to requests from unnamed citizens that “we should look into raising the speed limit because it [45 mph] seemed artificially low for a limited-access roadway,” Wilson said he has been told.
       The ensuing study showed that 85 percent of the Highway 24 drivers between 8th and 31st were exceeding the 45-mph speed limit, with average speeds of 54 to 58 mph. Such information, based on a CDOT formula and decision on the road's safety, was sufficient to increase the speed limit to 55. “People vote with their accelerator,” Wilson said.
       A math calculation shows that motorists going 55 mph (without stopping) could travel between 8th and 31st in 2 minutes and 48 seconds. The comparable time at 45 mph would be 3 minutes and 24 seconds (a difference of 36 seconds).
       El Paso County County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who lives on the Westside, said she was “real disappointed” in the change. She has concerns about safety, especially with the current Fountain Creek flooding potential and the likelihood that people will now think they can drive 10 mph over the 55 level.
       She also questioned the lack of a local process - “I thought some neighborhood folks would have been contacted.” She was among those who weren't, Clark added.
       Also left out of the loop was City Transportation Manager Kathleen Krager. Nevertheless, she is responsible for adjusting the stoplight timing at the intersections in keeping with the higher speed limit, she pointed out.
       The decision appears to give greater weight to motorists passing through, rather than locals using the highway to get around. In contrast, the EA, citing a “near-even balance between regional and local travelers,” proposes an “expressway” design to “provide a lower-speed highway with increased at-grade access for local travelers with a look and feel that is more like a local road… The posted speed limit would be 50 mph.”
       At a May 2006 public meeting (one of several leading up to the EA), engineers were even looking at 40 mph, but believed that 50 mph would be acceptable with wider medians, according to a Westside Pioneer article.
       No proposed changes in the current median widths were coupled with the new 55 mph speed limit decision.
       According to another document in the EA study, the highway was built in 1964 with at-grade intersections; since then, “only safety improvements and maintenance items have been accomplished.”
       The EA plan includes building interchanges at 8th and 21st streets and keeping the at-grade intersections at 26th and 31st (with three lanes each way).
       Wilson said that the recent CDOT speed study will now become part of the data in the EA.
       A federal agency is reviewing the EA. It is the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The agency has not announced a decision date.

Westside Pioneer article