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Gas pains

Fri., July 3, 2009

Rising fuel prices have many making local holiday plans

Ardis Wilson and his family may head out to a lake, perhaps even drive to Coeur d’Alene, this Fourth of July.

What they won’t do is drive to Oregon to visit his family, as he had hoped. With gas prices rising, “that’s too far to go,” said the Spokane man.

Wilson has a lot of company this recessionary Independence Day. AAA projects a dip in automobile travel of 2.4 percent this weekend among Washington residents. (The Mountain West region, including Idaho, is the only spot in the country where the AAA expects to see a slight increase in travel – 1.2 percent.)

It’s the second year in a row that holiday travel is expected to dip, though by much less than last year’s 10.5 percent drop nationwide.

One reason more people may stay home is the steady rise in gas prices, which have gone up by around 20 cents a gallon in the past month. Thursday’s average price in Spokane was $2.84, and it was $2.67 in Coeur d’Alene.

The prices are nowhere near the record levels of a year ago, when they topped $4 a gallon. But they’ve been rising steadily all year and are approaching $3.

That’s keeping drivers like Alyson Zion – who calls her kid-packed Ford Aerostar a “gas hog” – off the roads as much as possible.

“As the prices go up, I tend to drive less,” she said.

For many drivers, gas prices are a persistent mystery. Wilson says he’s become frustrated as prices rise and fall.

“It keeps going up and down,” he said. “I don’t see any reason for it to go up and down.”

Experts cite a lot of complex, international reasons for changes in gas prices – most recently noting, for example, that militant violence in Nigeria, the world’s fifth-largest oil producer, has driven down oil supply. Observers also say the recession had kept demand and prices low, and that rising prices are a sign of rising consumer confidence.

In any case, gas prices have risen beyond federal projections for the summer.

The Energy Inform- ation Administration predicted a national average price of $2.27 this summer, and it’s already reached $2.62.

Still, few experts anticipate a return to $4 gas in the near future, according to an analysis by Consumer Reports.

That’s little comfort for drivers like Zion, who has a much lower threshold in mind.

“I’d rather they keep it down to 99 cents,” she said. “Or a dollar is fine.”


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