03/21/10 — Local gas war pushes lines onto U.S. 70

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Local gas war pushes lines onto U.S. 70

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 21, 2010 1:50 AM

A grand-opening promotion offering gas at $1.99 per gallon sparked a gas war Friday creating lines at the pumps reminiscent of those seen during the gas shortage of the 1970s.

And at one station, traffic was backed up onto U.S. 70 West.

Yet, despite the lines, motorists at both locations appeared to be taking the congestion in stride and did not appear concerned about waits of 10 to 15 minutes to take their turn at the pumps for the cheaper fuel.

The war apparently was triggered when the new Murphy's Express at the Rosewood Wal-Mart began offering the $1.99 gas around 10 a.m. as part of a grand-opening promotion. It was not long after that the Wilco Hess near Little River dropped it prices to match.

Wilco Hess officials declined comment and asked the News-Argus reporter to leave the property.

Traffic was backed up along Claridge Nursery Road that runs in front of the store, backing up onto U.S. 70 West as store officials and others attempted to direct traffic. In some cases motorists had to drive along the shoulder of the road to get past the backed-up traffic.

Adding to the congestion was the traffic created by people trying to either get into the McDonald's or its drive-through that shares the building with Wilco Hess.

At one point, McDonald's employees moved among the vehicles passing out complimentary beverages.

Murphy's officials declined to provide their names for the record, but said they all had experience directing traffic -- all Murphy's Oil Co. employees from the president down are required to take the training, they said.

Employees at the Rosewood store said they had helped direct traffic following hurricanes in Texas and New Orleans. The Murphy's stores are the last to close before a hurricane and the first to reopen, they said.

Murphy's employees routed traffic around the parking lot drive away at the shopping center to keep it from blocking traffic on the highway.

Still, it took drivers 10 to 15 minutes to reach the pumps.

The drivers didn't seem to care why the prices were well below the current $2.60 to $2.70 per gallon.

"I just drove by and I needed gas. I was on empty," said Elizabeth Garcia as she filled up at Murphy Express. "It is really good. It is a nice change from $2.60, $2.70. It is really good."

Ms. Garcia wasn't sure exactly how much she had saved.

"But it counts through," she said.

"We actually own Elayah Food Mart," said Cassandra Elayah as she pulled up to the pumps at Wilco Hess. "We sell gas, but we wouldn't be able to afford this. I was just driving by, we were on our way to Raleigh, and we decided that we needed to get a money order.

"We pulled in and noticed all of the cars then we saw it ($1.99 sign). The sign is so far back of the road that we didn't see it until we pulled in. It is pretty exciting."

"It's crazy," she said commenting about the traffic backing up to U.S. 70.

"I heard the guys out here helping out are just volunteers," she said. "By the time they help these other cars get filled up they are not going to have any time to fill theirs up."

Ta-Kisha Darden of Goldsboro said she had heard about the prices (at Murphy Express) on the radio.

"Then I called here to see if they would compare prices and they would," she said. "So I just came down here because it is closer to my job because I am on my lunch break and I have to get back (to work)."

She said it had taken less than 10 minutes to get up to the pumps.

"I haven't seen this ($1.99 price) since I was teenager," she said.

Jim Kearney of Grantham was at Wilco Hess for gas for his lawn mower.

"I have been here two hours," he said as he watched the flood of traffic from shade of the store while drinking a soft drink.

After getting to the pumps it took about three minutes, he said.

"I have been here since 11 o'clock," he said. 'I was standing in line over there. This line is moving that one wasn't. They were all turned backwards. They didn't know which way. One of them had the gas cap on the wrong side. They had to turnaround or back in. They are backing up onto 70 now.

"There will be a lot of headaches before this is over. I am just sightseeing now."

Kearney said he had seen only a few signs of impatient drivers and a few horn blowers, but that otherwise it had been quiet.

"I was (coming to get gas), but I am not fighting this mess," said Gary Charfauros. "It is just too much I am going to wait until later when it calms down. But this is what we need especially for people who are retired and living on a fixed income.

"This a wonderful treat for us folks who really need it. I would stand in line, but I've got almost a full tank. I would wait for this if I could."

Will Best said he was in line about eight minutes.

'My car was on 'E' and now I have put in $25.27 cents worth," he said. "It normally takes $55 to fill it up."

It was worth waiting a few minutes, Best said.