'Fortify' lane closures slow I-40 commute from Johnston
Posted December 15, 2013
Updated December 16, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Thousands of Raleigh commuters ran into delays Monday morning because of daytime lane closures associated with fixing the pavement on Interstate 440.
As part of the so-called "Fortify" project, construction crews have narrowed the merge lanes from westbound Interstate 40 to westbound I-440, at Exit 16, making the half-mile to mile stretch of merge lanes and the highway one lane.
"I am going to go around it as much as possible," driver Sharone Wilson said. "I'm dreading it. I'm really dreading it. It's going to be a nightmare, and all we can do is get used to it."
Backups began in the 7 a.m. hour, with the heaviest delays at the merge point. Getting from N.C. Highway 42 in Johnston County to the I-40/I-440 split in Raleigh took 48 minutes, more than twice the time needed during a normal morning rush hour.
"The first few days when there is a change like this, things can be a little hectic," said Steve Abbott, communications supervisor for the state Department of Transportation.
In addition to the congestion, drivers complained about the lane markings where the highway has narrowed, with some saying they are confusing and dangerous. DOT officials said crews would work Monday night to grind down old markings and repaint new ones and install reflectors to make sure the lanes are as clearly marked as possible.
There were far fewer problems during the evening commute, but the DOT hasn't yet shifted any eastbound lanes on I-440.
Fortify is the state's project to rebuild crumbling pavement on an 11.5-mile stretch of the heavily traveled I-40/440.
No other work is planned for westbound I-440 until Tuesday night, when crews hope to continue installing lane shifts from Sunnybrook Road to Poole Road.
On Wednesday night, crews will return to finish the lane closures from Poole Road to the U.S. Highway 64/264 split.
Work to close lanes on eastbound I-440 is expected to begin after Christmas, officials said.
Once eastbound and westbound lanes are narrowed on I-440, permanent construction barriers will create a two-lane highway through December 2014.
Wake County Public School System officials are preparing now for any future delays created by the Fortify project. The school board plans to discuss options at Tuesday's work session.
The district's Transportation Department doesn't anticipate any major issues with the first part of the project, but officials said Phase 2, which will begin late next year on I-440 in south Raleigh, could pose delays for school buses and services such as food delivery.
DOT to expand commuter options as lanes close
In preparation for increased traffic issues expected due to Fortify lane closures, expanded commuter options became active Monday.
A daily express bus service runs between downtown Raleigh and Cleveland Crossing in Johnston County. Called the Johnston County Express, or JCX, the route follows I-40 to U.S. Highway 70 into downtown. Commuters can try the service for free through January, officials said.
There are also plans to create a park-and-ride lot at the Walmart in Cleveland Crossings Shopping Center, which is near I-40 and N.C. 42. The lot will allow commuters to park before catching the JCX bus or meet with carpoolers to share a ride.
DOT's Bus on Shoulder System also became active on Monday along I-40 from Raleigh to Exit 312. It enables bus drivers on designated routes to travel in the shoulder of the interstate as long as traffic in travel lanes is moving slower than 35 mph.
In addition, the existing Zebulon-Wendell-Raleigh Express bus route will be expanded to include midday run.
DOT officials say they hope to get 30,000 drivers off I-40 and I-440 during the morning and afternoon rush hours while the Fortify project is going on.