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Gas prices rise — just in time for holiday travel

POSTED August 30, 2011 7:42 p.m.

The price of gasoline has surged once again – just in time for the Labor Day travel weekend.

“Retail gasoline prices finished last week quite strong in some areas on concern surrounding Hurricane Irene,” said Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy.com senior petroleum analyst. “The concern surrounding refinery production on the East Coast helped boost gasoline prices outside that area as well.”

According to gasoline price-tracking firm GasBuddy.com, average retail prices for gasoline in Stanislaus County have increased 9.8 cents in the past week, averaging $3.71 per gallon. That’s more than the national average of $3.61 per gallon, up 2.8 cents in the last week, but less than the statewide average.

Despite the increase, gasoline in Turlock remains among the least expensive in the county. A gallon of regular unleaded fuel can be found in Turlock for as little as $3.58 per gallon, per GasBuddy.com.

Gasoline prices in the Stanislaus County area are now 74.4 cents per gallon higher than a year ago, and 1.3 cents per gallon less than a month ago. Nationwide, gasoline has risen 91.6 cents per gallon over the last year, and declined 9.1 cents per gallon in the last month.

DeHann said price relief at the pumps could be coming soon, but likely not until after the Labor Day weekend.

“The good news for motorists is that damage to refineries was likely minimal and gasoline production will resume soon. However, with Labor Day weekend fast approaching and these refineries taking days to resume production we still may see retail prices gradually climb during this week," DeHaan said.

Those higher gas prices, combined with a weak economy and high unemployment rates, have AAA projecting a decline in travelers this Labor Day.

 “California travelers are reacting to the most recent economic downturns and that is having a significant effect on discretionary spending,” said AAA Northern California spokesperson Cynthia Harris. “Nonetheless, with a pent up desire to get away for the last holiday of the season, we could see an increase in last-minute weekend travel.”

Per AAA’s travel forecast, more than 3.7 million Californians will travel 50 or more miles from their home during the Labor Day weekend – a 2.6 percent decline from a year ago.

Most travelers – more than 3 million – will drive to their destinations of choice, .9 percent fewer than in 2010. Air travel will see a similar, 1.5 percent decline, with 453,000 Californians expected to fly, while alternative modes of transportation such as rail, bus, and watercraft will see a massive decrease in ridership, down 33.1 percent from a year ago to 230,000 riders.

In many ways, that travel will cost more than in 2010. Airfare is expected to rise 13 percent from 2010, with an average cost of $202 per ticket to top 40 U.S. air routes. Hotel rates at AAA Three Diamond lodgings are projected to increase 6 percent, to an average of $148 per night.

In total, the average West Coast family of four is projected to spend $627 over the weekend, travelling nearly 500 miles.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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