Just in time for the Christmas trip to grandma’s house, motorists in Limestone County and across the U.S. may feel pain at the pump as gas prices are expected to inch closer to $3 per gallon.
Crude oil prices on Monday were hovering near $90 per gallon, a fact market analysts attributed to cold weather and a weaker U.S. dollar.
The Lundberg Survey Inc., an independent market research company, estimated Monday that gas prices would continue to rise if crude prices rise concurrently, leading to some potentially grumpy holiday travelers.
The national average price for gasoline Monday was $2.95 per gallon, while the average price-per-gallon in Alabama was $2.836, according to AlabamaGasPrices.com. The highest gas in the state could be purchased at a Shell station near the Birmingham airport for $2.99 per gallon, while the least expensive gas could be found at the Costco near the Galleria in Birmingham for $2.64.
In Limestone County, gas prices are closer to the state average, with both Murphy Oil on U.S. 31 and Raceway on U.S. 72 selling regular gas for $2.84 per gallon.
Clay Ingram of AAA Alabama said the state average of $2.83 is actually up 12 cents from last week, and noted that it was strange for prices to be rising at this time of year.
“Usually we hit our high prices around Memorial Day or the summer holidays when the travel season is at its peak,” he said. “It’s very unusual to see prices going up as demand is going down.”
Despite gas prices going up, Ingram said he doesn’t expect a travel drop-off because of an increase in gas prices, adding that the family bond at Christmas time would mean more Alabamians on the road.
“It’s hard to call up your parents, grandparents or kids and say, ‘Gas is up, so I’m not coming for Christmas,’” Ingram said. “Most people don’t take [gas prices] into consideration because they’re either going to travel or they’re not. It works that way at Thanksgiving as well.”
Though AAA has not yet released a projection on the amount of Christmas travelers this year, Ingram expects a big increase over last year. He said Thanksgiving travel was up a whopping 11.5 percent this year over last year, though travel is still down from five years ago.
“People are probably a little more optimistic about the economy and are more comfortable with their own personal situation,” he said. “Last year, more people were concerned about losing their jobs or their spouse losing a job, but now they’re a little more comfortable and have made some adjustments.”
AAA offers two tools on its website to aid drivers who are preparing to hit the road, including a fuel cost calculator and a mapping service to get drivers from point A to B. After entering starting and final destination addresses and answering a few questions about engine size and gas mileage, a driver can find out how much they can expect to pay in gasoline for the whole trip.
Ingram also suggested three tips that all drivers should consider before hitting the road, including:
• have your car checked by a certified technician, including tire pressure, hoses, belts and fluid levels;
• minimize distractions while driving; have the passenger read maps or GPS and adjust the radio and provide something for the kids to do in the back seat;
• pad travel time and prepare for congestion and slow traffic.
For more information, visit http://www.aaa.com.