The digital billboard that looms over Ed Elbrecht’s 14 Carrot Whole Foods flashes a message from supporters of Lexington County’s proposed sales tax increase: “Dangerous intersection! Vote yes for safe roads. Vote yes for the penny.”
Elbrecht has fired back on his store’s sign: “Disregard big digital sign. Vote no for new taxes.”
Call it the battle of Mineral Springs and Hope Ferry roads – at $4.9 million the top-priority construction project among 92 that could be funded by the tax increase.
Tax increase proponents say the two intersections, within a few hundred feet of each other on U.S. 378, must be fixed because they are among the worst in the county. They carry more than double the traffic they are designed for and have been the site of almost 150 collisions in the past three years.
But Elbrecht is firmly convinced that if the intersection is consolidated at Hope Ferry Road and he loses the traffic light at Mineral Springs Road outside his store, it will kill much of his business. There won’t be enough breaks in traffic so customers heading his way from Lexington on U.S. 378 can turn left into his parking lot, Elbrecht said.
“I just don’t think that combining the two intersections makes sense,” he said. “By doing that, you’re just going to make a large intersection that everyone is going to dread going through.”
Elbrecht said he moved his business from West Columbia 14 years ago partially because of the stoplight’s location.
Those kinds of things can be very important for a retail business, said David Cardenas, a USC professor whose research specialties include consumer behavior and community development.
“Location definitely has an impact on a business,” Cardenas said. “If customers can’t get there and it isn’t accessible, then it will be affected.”
Elbrecht said his signs have drawn questions from some customers and that he printed some pamphlets outlining his concerns. But Elbrecht said he’s seen a lot more pro-increase signs and worries “a lot of people will base their vote off knee-jerk reactions to road signs.”
Cashier LaToya Matthews said it’s difficult as it is for her and others to get to work with the traffic, and, like Elbrecht, fears that removing the traffic light will make it even more difficult.
“A lot of the older customers already have trouble making it to the store with the intersection how it is,” Matthews said.
Lexington Town Councilman Todd Shevchik said he understands the concerns but thinks the realignment project will ultimately help Lexington, where growth has exploded along U.S. 378 during the past decade.
For instance, grocery and drug stores have recently been built at the Hope Ferry Road intersection with U.S. 378, also known as Sunset Boulevard. And while the growth doesn’t bother Elizabeth Caulk, president of the Hope Springs neighborhood off Hope Ferry Road, she’s concerned more vehicles will use Hope Ferry once it and Mineral Springs are aligned.
Caulk says more traffic could take away from what she likes about living in the still semi-rural area where signs warn of horses and riders crossing the road.
Shevchik said 14 Carrot could actually see better traffic flow once the project is finished. But Elbrecht said he has spent time observing the intersection and noting traffic patterns.
Elbrecht said he thinks many of his customers are loyal, but he’s unsure of how they will react. Cardenas said loyal customers might still come but will have to adjust their schedules as they start to learn the best times for the new traffic patterns.
Avery Wilks contributed. This article was produced as part of this semester’s J-471 Intermediate Reporting & Production class at the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications.