Life and limb will no longer be risked when riders get off the bus at the Forest Drive Walmart, thanks to long-awaited route changes and a new shelter.
For years, people riding the COMET’s route 5 and 15 have had to traverse four lanes of traffic and a large median after getting off at a bus stop near the Forest Acres big-box store. When a rider wanted to jump back on, those same four lanes threatened to make it that person’s last run for the bus.
Now proposed reroutes of the two lines will have the buses making the turn onto the road that loops around Walmart and surrounding businesses.
Riders are also getting a 30-foot shelter at the site, the largest covering that the COMET currently puts out.
In April, Free Times reported on the dangers the Forest Drive stop posed for riders — and the fact that Walmart had been putting off requests from the COMET to put shelters at stores in the Columbia area. The retail giant had declined to allow the public transit system access to the roads surrounding their Forest Drive location, which is just outside of Fort Jackson, despite the fact that most riders getting off at the traffic-heavy stop were going to Walmart.
For the new shelter, COMET officials found a site along the loop around the Forest Acres store that didn’t require the corporate giant’s permission to use.
However, since that Free Times report, an official with the COMET says Walmart has been more responsive.
“They have been cooperative lately,” says Samuel Scheib, a transit planner and manager with the COMET.
A Walmart on Broad River Road, which prior to Free Times’ reporting refused to allow a COMET shelter on the store’s property, also recently granted the bus system permission to construct amenities for riders.
Buses should be routing to the new stop off of Forest Acres by the beginning of January.
Concrete will be poured for the shelter by the end of November with benches being installed shortly after. The cover that will protect people from rain and sun at the new stop is currently under construction and Scheib suspects it will be in place no later than the end of January. The cost of the shelter is $14,000, not including concrete and construction costs. Federal grants will pay for 80 percent of the costs of the project with the remaining 20 percent being paid by local funds.
Along with a change in the location of the bus stop, route 15 is being renumbered to route 701 and route 5 is changing to route 76. The new 701 will also shorten its route to service mostly Forest Drive while the new route 76 will run through Fort Jackson and exclude travel through Forest Acres to downtown. Essentially, route 701 will take riders through Forest Acres to and from the downtown transit center, making its way to the new shelter where riders will transfer to other routes that were formerly serviced by routes 5 and 15.
Two new routes are proposed as well which will expand the COMET’s service in Northeast Columbia. The new route 75 will take Percival Road to Decker Boulevard, which is currently serviced by route 15. The new line will go further down to Parklane Road and turn around at Farrow Road. An entirely new line, route 77, will travel up Percival Road and make its way to the Polo Road Park area. The shelter off of Forest Drive will serve as a hub for all the routes.
The COMET is still working with Walmarts in Harbison and on Garners Ferry Road to build shelters. At the Garners Ferry store, Scheib was told that in exchange for using the property of the $500 billion company, the COMET would need to pay $40,000 to make sure a proposed shelter met federal requirements — a cost the transit system couldn’t afford. Now, Walmart’s tune has changed.
“I think we are making progress on Harbison and Garners,” Scheib say. “Walmart’s correspondence is positive but we don’t have anything signed yet.”
To Tiffany James, spokesperson for the public transit system, the changes in the buses serving area Walmarts will better serve bus regulars — but also give a reason for people who haven’t taken the COMET to get onboard.
“[Frequent bus riders] will be appreciative of this amenity they asked for,” James says. “But it’ll attract more riders as well. They’ll see it as something that could make riding more comfortable. It’ll be a plus for more both riders.”