Johnston County commuters will soon be able to take a bus to get around traffic congestion on Raleigh’s beltline.
Staff from the N.C. Department of Transportation came to Johnston last week to talk to County Commissioners about the three-year beltline rebuilding project, called “Fortify.”
This week, after some preliminary work, crews are beginning the heavy lifting on the project, which will rebuild, or fortify, about 11 miles of interstates 40 and 440. For the first leg of the project, work will begin at Exit 301 and will stretch east to where highways 64 and 264 meet the beltline. Exit 301 is the exit commuters use to enter Raleigh’s beltline from I-40. On both sides, traffic will be reduced from four lanes to two.
To help Johnston commuters weather the storm, the DOT is adding a bus line and van pools, said Richard Walls, deputy secretary for transit.
The bus route will begin around the week of Dec. 16; an exact date hasn’t been set. It will run from the parking lot at Walmart in the Cleveland community to downtown Raleigh.
The buses will run every half-hour, from 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. At first, rides will be free, but after a few months, the one-way fare will be $2.50, the standard fare for an express bus in Raleigh. The buses will have Wi-Fi.
The DOT will also provide more vans that people can rent and use to share the cost of commuting. To coordinate with a group of others, visit ncdot.gov/fortifync/transit-options/.
Walls said the congestion should ease up over time as drivers begin finding alternate routes to work. He encouraged people with flexible work schedules to drive to and from work at off times.
Overall, the DOT has allotted about $12 million to help ease the traffic back-ups, Walls said. Johnston commissioners commended the DOT for its communication with the county and for offering the bus route.
Commissioners said they want to know how many people use the bus. The numbers could show whether the county has enough interest in public transportation to add a permanent bus route after the project wraps up.
Also last week, commissioners approved an economic incentive for Coca-Cola’s distribution center in Clayton.
The grant – essentially a $40,000 tax rebate over five years – encourages Coca-Cola to purchase almost $5 million in equipment for its distribution center. After the company pays taxes on the equipment, Johnston will return half of that money in the first year, 40 percent in the second and so on until the rebate ends at 10 percent in the fifth year.
The equipment purchase will not create new jobs in Clayton, but the company will be looking for higher-skilled and higher-paid workers to operate the robotic devices.
Robert Wheeler, a company official, attended Monday’s meeting and thanked commissioners for their support. “Our employment has increased since we came here ... and according to current plans, I don’t see that changing,” he said.
The distribution center employs about 280 people.
Commissioners re-elected Jeff Carver chairman and Tony Braswell vice chairman. Braswell could not attend the meeting because he was sick.
Commissioners agreed to spend $15,000 to help buy a van for the local Disabled American Veterans chapter. The DAV will use the van to transport veterans to doctor appointments, said Rudy Baker, chairman of the Johnston County Veterans Services Advisory Board.
The Veterans Medical Center in Durham will share in the cost of the $27,000 the van. The DAV’s current van has 163,000 miles, and the maintenance costs are getting too high, Baker said
Commissioners also approved tax-exempt loans for the Bethany Volunteer Fire Department and Kenly Volunteer Fire Department, which are buying a fire truck and tanker truck, respectively.
Finally, commissioners named Sheila Gardner the county’s next tax administrator. She will replace Pat Goddard, who’s retiring at year’s end.