PLEASANT HILL -- Robust demand for cheap gas and a poorly designed layout are causing headaches and long waits at the Safeway gas station on Contra Costa Boulevard.
Since the station opened in February 2012, motorists have waited in line for 10 minutes or longer at all times of day for the chance to fill up at a discount. The line begins as one lane on Golf Club Road becomes two informal lines in the parking lot and finally divides into four lanes before cars reach one of six double-sided gas pumps. "Fuel ambassadors" direct traffic and try to keep the procession to the pumps somewhat orderly.
Safeway, Sunvalley mall and the city have been working to fix the circulation problems before the Sept. 12 opening of Nordstrom Rack, a discount retail outlet being built directly across the parking lot from the gas station in the former CVS space.
But while the city and the shopping center expect Safeway to come up with a new traffic-flow plan, it's unclear whether the grocer is working on such a proposal. Safeway spokeswoman Wendy Gutshall said the company plans to add more pumps to help improve circulation.
"They had a huge amount of demand, and we thought it was going to kind of trickle down, and after the first few months the honeymoon would be over, but it didn't," said Mario Moreno, Pleasant Hill city engineer.
Moreno said the city wants to remove some parking stalls and flip the queuing so vehicles line up in the parking lot along Contra Costa Boulevard instead of Golf Club Road.
Despite the volatility of gas prices in the Bay Area, Safeway usually offers a cheaper price than the national oil companies. On Friday, a gallon of unleaded was selling for $3.79 at Safeway. The price was $3.99 at the Chevron on the opposite corner of Contra Costa Boulevard and Golf Club Road.
Michael Fenley, Sunvalley mall general manager, said the backups are due to Safeway's rewards program, which can save customers up to one dollar per gallon of gas based on how much they spend at the grocery store. Motorists can redeem their reward points on a single fill-up.
"When we initially designed the traffic flow, we did not understand they were going to utilize this type of marketing program, so we did not anticipate the long lines," Fenley said.
"We need to redesign the traffic flow and create a stacking area so that the cars can line up for gas without impacting the parking lot, and we are working on that," he added.
Livermore resident Sarah Dorsey joined the long line for gas Friday morning while her father was in the bank.
"It's insane; I can't believe it," said Dorsey, who was visiting the gas station for the first time. "I've only seen this at Costco."
Dorsey agreed that the layout needs improvement before the Nordstrom Rack opens.
"Otherwise, on a weekend when this place is packed, you're going to have some pretty angry people."
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.