GREENVILLE, SC — Shoppers get a new reason to visit Woodruff Road on April 3, when Cabela’s, the outdoor equipment chain popular with hunters and anglers, opens its first store in South Carolina at the Magnolia Park shopping center.
What shoppers won’t have is more room to navigate Woodruff Road.
Local planners say the parallel route that is the best option for mitigating traffic congestion on Woodruff Road can’t be completed for a decade at the earliest because road funding is in such short supply.
With Cabela’s expected to bring even more traffic to Greenville’s biggest retail corridor, some Woodruff Road merchants are getting frustrated, said Dinah Romaella, general manager of the Costco Wholesale store at Magnolia Park.
Cabela’s will be a “big draw for the plaza, which is good for everyone,” Romaella said, “but I just think on the negative side there’s going to be a traffic issue.”
Romaella said she thinks Woodruff Road retailers are already losing business because of the aversion some shoppers have for the congestion.
She said she’d support an increase in the state gas tax to pay for road improvements, as some lawmakers are proposing, or a 1 percent hike in Greenville County’s sales tax, a question County Council may put to voters in a referendum.
“I think that the gas tax hike would make the most sense, and it would have less impact on everyone because you wouldn’t really feel it,” Romaella said.
Target employee Christina Delamar, however, said she’s not sure a majority of county residents would authorize a sales tax hike – even if the money went to improve roads.
“If they’re like me, they’re already feeling the strain on their pockets with everything else that we’re having to pay for,” she said.
The 32-year-old said she encounters Woodruff Road congestion regularly as she drives from her residence in Taylors to her job at Target.
“I definitely wouldn’t want a gas tax increase,” Delamar said. “Gas prices are already high enough as they are.”
The 107,000-square-foot Cabela’s is expected to draw shoppers from a wide area when it opens in less than six weeks.
The store will include a gun “library,” an indoor archery range, a bargain “cave,” a deli, a fudge shop and a replica of a mountain with museum-quality taxidermy.
Nathan Borowski, a spokesman for the Sidney, Neb.-based chain, said he couldn’t put an exact number on how many shoppers are expected to patronize the Greenville store, but he said other Cabela’s stores have drawn customers from as far away as 100 miles – about the distance from Columbia to Greenville.
“Of course, when people drive that far they’ll eat at some of the local restaurants, possibly stay at a local hotel,” Borowski said.
Cabela’s announced Monday that company executives and other unidentified special guests would be on hand for opening day in Greenville.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony 15 minutes before the store opens at 11 a.m. will kick off a weekend-long “celebration” that will include celebrity appearances, family events and giveaways, the chain announced.
Borowski said customers typically form a long line waiting to get in the store on opening day for a new Cabela’s.
“Usually early in the morning we’ll have customers lining up, and it’s not uncommon to have customers camp overnight in the parking lot,” he said.
Tiffany Froehlich, a 43-year-old mother from Greenville, said she thinks county voters would approve a sales tax hike to improve roads if given the chance.
Froehlich said she drives on Woodruff Road frequently to call on clients as part of her job as a national accounts manager for Verizon Wireless.
“It’s always busy,” she said. “Very rarely am I on Woodruff Road when it’s not.”
Hiking the sales tax to generate more money for roads “would be worth it,” Froelich said. “Not that Greenville as far as traffic is super difficult to get from point A to point B, but I do think that there could be some improvements with the roads.”
The parallel route that planners say would help alleviate Woodruff Road congestion would run for a mile and a half between Verdae Boulevard and Miller Road near Frankie’s Fun Park.
Along the way, it would cross Interstate 85 and connect with three roads that branch off Woodruff Road and are dead ends now — Ketron Court near Costco, Green Heron Road at the Nutra Manufacturing plant and Woodruff Industrial Lane at TGI Friday’s.
Planners say the route would give drivers a way to access popular destinations such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or the Greenridge shopping center without having to drive on Woodruff Road. They also say it would cut Woodruff Road traffic by 25 percent over time.
The project tops a list of pressing road needs compiled by the Greenville-Pickens Area Transportation Study (GPATS), a regional planning group that ranks proposed highway improvements according to various criteria such as present and future traffic counts.
But the work is estimated to cost $27 million, and GPATS has just $14.8 million a year to spend on road improvements across its entire service territory.
Statewide, the Department of Transportation faces a shortfall of nearly $30 billion over 20 years to bring South Carolina’s highway system to a level of "C," according to a special task force created by the DOT board.