Sunday, 26 May 2024

Reduced gas prices lead to Lakeport traffic jam

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Customers crowd into the gas station Thursday afternoon. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

 



LAKEPORT – What started out as a customer appreciation promotion at a Lakeport gas station ended with traffic gridlock and public safety concerns.


On Thursday, Tower Mart on Lakeport Boulevard began selling regular unleaded gasoline for $1.99 per gallon, with discounts for other grades of gas as well, except for diesel, which remained at $4.29 per gallon.


Tower Mart Regional Manager Walt Huth said he found out from the corporate offices Thursday morning that the reduced gas was being offered beginning at noon as part of a special promotion.


At about 12:01 p.m., Lakeport Police started receiving a deluge of calls, said Sgt. Kevin Odom of Lakeport Police.


Over the next few hours, callers reported a massive traffic jam at Highway 29's Todd Road exit and down Lakeport Boulevard, said Lt. Brad Rasmussen. There also were reports of irate people – some of them getting ready to fight.


Lakeport Unified School District's transportation supervisor called to express concern about school buses being able to get through town between 2:45 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., said Rasmussen.


Odom and Officer Norm Taylor initially were sent out to investigate the situation, and found traffic was lined up from the station down Lakeport Boulevard to Main Street, Rasmussen said.


Both northbound and southbound off ramps were backed up with traffic almost to the highway, said Rasmussen. At one point, drivers were backing down the off ramps or blocking intersections. Gas station clerks were out near the road beckoning divers into the business.


“We discovered they had not done any planning for this,” said Rasmussen, who added the promotion was supposed to go on for four days.


A California Highway Patrol sergeant and a Lakeport Public Works superintendent responded to the scene along with Lakeport Police. Rasmussen said they quickly became concerned that if the promotion went on until 5 p.m. as planned, the public safety concerns would only mount.


Rasmussen said the clogged streets caused delays for people trying to get to other businesses in the area and to Mendocino College's Lake Center on Parallel Drive.


Across the street, McDonald's owner John Norcio said that he did not feel that his lunchtime business had been adversely effected. His staff had begun taking orders from drivers waiting in the backup and had runners delivering food directly to the cars.


Rasmussen spoke to Lakeport City Attorney Steve Brookes about legal concerns before asking the station to shut the promotion down until he could meet with city officials to form a plan.


Police didn't want to harm the station's business but their concerns about safety were the primary issue, Rasmussen explained.


Store manager Debbie Bottorff said the sale shut down about 1:30 p.m.


Rasmussen said police helped control traffic around the gas station. Anyone still in line when the shutdown was called were allowed to purchase gas. By the time police left the area it was nearly 3 p.m.


People were still busily stopping into the station all afternoon.


Bottorff said sales figures for the sales period were not available Thursday afternoon. She estimated that on a normal day the station pumps a total of 2,600 gallons.


Tower Mart offered the reduced gas at seven other areas around the state, including Lincoln and Lathrop. In Lathrop, the resulting traffic jams also led to a shutdown over public safety concerns, according to media reports.


Rasmussen said he had asked Huth to meet with city officials Friday morning to go over a plan for future reduced gas sales, and Huth agreed, although later in the day he changed his mind and canceled.


Huth indicated that the Lakeport station would still offer some gas discounts in the coming days, with prices expected to be set at $3.29 through the weekend.


Elizabeth Larson contributed to this report.


E-mail Harold LaBonte at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

 

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Traffic was lined up down the highway off ramp. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
 

 

 

 

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The line of vehicles stretched down to Main Street. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
 

 

 

 

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The prices at the station haven't been seen in a long time. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

 


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