Construction has begun on gasoline pumps at Costco, but warehouse manager Chris Stafford says a set opening day is still far from certain. (File photo by Michaela Halnon)

Construction has begun on gasoline pumps at Costco, but warehouse manager Chris Stafford says a set opening day is still far from certain.

Even so, Stafford said officials from the Costco corporate office decided to move forward with groundbreaking late last month.

“They want to make sure whenever this thing gets approved we are ready to go,” Stafford said.

The pumps’ pending installation prompted a lengthy legal battle in 2007 when Maplefields gas station mogul Skip Vallee challenged the projects’ permits. The case went all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court.

In August, the high court ruled Costco could proceed with its expansion after specific improvements were made to the surrounding roadways.

That includes the addition of a second dedicated left-hand turn lane from Lower Mountain View Drive onto southbound Route 7, a second dedicated right-hand turn lane from Lower Mountain View Drive onto northbound Route 7 and another travel lane for through traffic and traffic turning right onto Route 7 from Lower Mountain View Drive.

Costco also proposed “better synchronization” of the traffic lights at each of the aforementioned intersections, “to allow for more optimal traffic flow,” the decision reads.

The members-only warehouse also said they would install a “do not block driveway” sign at the curb of Vallee’s nearby Maplefields station.

The justices ruled the suite of proposed changes would sufficiently address the estimated 155 new vehicle trips during peak traffic hours prompted by the expansion, according to an analysis by the trial court.

However, Vermont Agency of Transportation’s extensive Interstate-89 Exit 16 diverging diamond overhaul would also satisfy the traffic mitigation requirements, the Supreme Court decision says. That project is currently scheduled for completion in 2021, according to VTRANS.

Stafford said he was unaware of any company plans to complete those “near-term improvements” set forth in the Supreme Court decision rather than wait for the VTRANS project. He said corporate executives would make that choice.

Stafford said the ongoing gas pump construction would be completed in phases, but noted the project timeline is atypical due to the far-off operating plan.

“They’re not putting the sense of urgency on it because it’s not like once it’s done we’re going to open,” Stafford said. “This is a very unique situation. I don’t think any Costco has gone through this before.”

Still, the store hopes to open the section of parking spots currently blocked off as soon as possible, an inconvenience some customers have expressed frustration with, Stafford said.

In December, Stafford told the Sun he has worked at seven different Costco locations, and Colchester was the only one without gas pumps. He expects drivers will go out of their way to get gas at the store, just as his customers did in other states.

Stafford’s conservative estimates place Costco’s future gas prices 15 cents lower per gallon than the town average.

“We’re excited about it,” he said. “Competition is a good thing, so let’s hope this goes through.”