Johnston County commuters who drive to downtown Raleigh on weekday mornings will have the option, starting in mid-December, to park at the Walmart on N.C. 42 and catch an express bus to work.
At the same time, Capital Area Transit and Triangle Transit will double the daily schedule for their Zebulon-Wendell-Raleigh express bus. Where three buses now run an hour apart at rush hour, the ZWX route will have six buses running 30 minutes apart.
The two bus agencies are using new money from the state Department of Transportation for the expanded transit service. Their aim is to help compensate for heavy traffic jams expected during a three-year project to rebuild 11.5 miles of the Interstate 40/440 southern Beltline.
Work began this past week on the I-440 section at the southeast elbow of the Beltline, where crews will close lanes and squeeze traffic over the next 12 months.
Starting in the fall 2014, when the work and the rush-hour delays shift to the I-40 section in south and southwest Raleigh, the two transit agencies plan to make additional bus service improvements for commuters in Clayton, Garner and Cary.
DOT is setting aside $12 million to subsidize extra transit service – more buses and new van pools – until the Beltline work is finished in late 2016. After that, the service will end unless new funding is found.
This will be the first time a commuter bus route has been extended from Raleigh into Johnston County.
“We have gotten requests in the past for service from Johnston County, and this is an opportunity to introduce it,” said Erik Landfried, transit service planning supervisor for Triangle Transit. “But this is a temporary thing, and we’ll see what happens in the next few years.”
The Johnston County bus will leave a park-and-ride lot at Walmart on N.C. 42 in the Cleveland community every 30 minutes during the morning rush. No other stops are planned until the bus reaches downtown Raleigh, where it will drop commuters at a spot near the state government complex and a few blocks away near the Moore Square Transit Station.
Like express bus drivers on I-40 in Durham and western Wake counties, CAT drivers piloting the new Johnston express will have the option to slip onto the I-40 shoulder whenever freeway congestion pushes traffic speeds below 35 mph. The new bus-on-shoulder option applies to I-40 between N.C. 42 and the Beltline, giving bus riders a chance to move ahead of cars and trucks.
“If there’s going to be congestion anyway, why not let a professional do the driving?” Landfried said. “When you have a seat on the bus, that time is yours to do with as you please. Catch up on email, listen to podcasts, whatever you like. And you don’t have to worry about hitting the brake pedal every 10 seconds.”
David Eatman, Raleigh’s transit administrator, says the expected traffic delays from the Beltline project will make the new Johnston County bus attractive to commuters.
“This is certainly a great time for us to market such a service,” Eatman said. “Over time, we would expect that route to be popular.”
The eastern Wake route picks up commuters from park-and-ride lots in Zebulon and Wendell and makes a stop at WakeMed on New Bern Avenue on the way to downtown Raleigh.