Gas prices at Homerun Foods on Oglethorpe Boulevarde are running 1 cent below Albany’s current price average. (Staff photo: Laura Williams)
ALBANY — Those who celebrate the nation’s birthday this holiday weekend by traveling should expect to see the highest gas pump prices in six years, travel experts say.
While prices have started to inch down in recent days as factors such as the violence in Iraq and potential disruption of oil production there calms, the decline probably won’t be enough to get the price at the pump down much before the fireworks start.
“Market concerns about a supply disruption in Iraq are calming,” said Mark Jenkins, a spokesman for AAA — The Auto Club Group, which produces its Daily Fuel Gauge Report. “The price of oil slipped last week, so motorists should begin to see some relief at the pump. However, the discount may only be a nickel, keeping the average price on Independence Day at its highest level since 2008.”
GasBuddy.com, another organization that keeps a close watch on pump prices nationally, had a similar outlook.
“Just in time for the July 4 weekend, it appears the national average has hit a new 2014 high in the last week,” GasBuddy.com Senior Petroleum Analyst Patrick DeHaan said. “The good news is that we’re seeing signs that the peak price we hit last week is starting to unwind, but with July 4 just days away, motorists shouldn’t be expecting any big retreats in price before the weekend.
“The situation in Iraq has cooled, and if the situation remains calm and hurricane season continues to be a non-story, motorists will continue to see a slow decline in prices. But while the situation is slowly turning around and prices declining, it will still be the most expensive July 4 at the pump since 2008.”
According to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report, the national average early Monday morning was $3.676 per gallon, down 0.7 cent from last week but 18.4 cents higher than last year. GasBuddy.com on Monday afternoon had the national average pegged at $3.680, up 17.3 cents from the $3.507 its survey had for the date a year ago.
“Motorists are likely to pay about 20 cents more for gasoline than they did during last year’s Independence Day holiday weekend,” Jenkins said. “Still, current prices are about 10 cents cheaper than they were earlier this year. So AAA doesn’t believe gas prices will keep people from traveling for the holiday.”
A large number of Americans are expected to be affected, with AAA predicting that even with the higher gas prices, 34.8 million Americans — the most in seven years — will be taking to the highways for 50 miles or more from home, based on its survey.
The highest price for Georgia motorists traveling during Independence Day was in 2008, when the pump price average was $4.02, followed by 2011 when it hit $3.46. The Georgia average was at $3.593 Monday, an improvement of 1.9 cents in a week but 22.8 cents more than the $3.365 Georgians were paying a year ago, when gas reached $3.43 on the Fourth of July. GasBuddy.com on Monday afternoon had the state average at $3.596, up 24.9 cents from the $3.347 that Georgia motorists were paying last year.
Metro Albany was at $3.438 Monday, a decrease of 1.4 cents in a week and 4 cents from a month ago. While better than the state and national averages, Albany motorists Monday were paying 19 cents more per gallon than the same date in 2013.
The cheapest average price Monday morning, according to the Daily Fuel Gauge Report., was in metro Macon, where motorists were paying $3.433, a half-cent less than in Albany.
The remaining Georgia metro areas surveyed by AAA were, in order from lowest, Columbus, $3.452; Valdosta, $3.473; Augusta, $3.509; Savannah, $3.559; Athens, $3.62 and Atlanta, $3.67.
Late last week, AAA Travel projected that a total of 41 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the long Independence Day holiday weekend (Wednesday-Sunday), a 1.9 percent increase from the 40.3 million people who traveled last year and nearly 14 percent more than on the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
The majority of travelers, AAA said, will take to the highways, with more than eight in 10 of all travelers traveling by automobile — the highest level since 2007.
“With school out for summer, the Fourth of July holiday is typically the busiest summer travel holiday,” Jenkins said. “About 5 million more Americans travel for this holiday compared to Memorial or Labor Day weekends. Traditionally, the majority of those celebrating our nation’s independence take a road trip.”
In Georgia, AAA projects that 86.6 percent of travelers (992,621 out of a total 1.145 million) will drive, with 85,615 flying and 66,990 taking other means of transportation, such as boat cruises or train rides.
“Steady improvement in the economy along with increased consumer spending and confidence are the main factors driving more Americans to take a trip,” Jenkins said. “Consumer spending is expected to rise 4.2 percent, because of increasing credit not rising incomes. Consumers have been hesitant to add to their credit card balances the past several years, but continued improvements in the employment picture and rising home values mean they are starting to feel more comfortable taking on debt.”
AAA officials said they don’t think the fact that pump prices will be higher than in recent years will lead to trip cancellations.
“Current gas prices are still cheaper than this year’s peak price and unlikely to deter people from traveling,” Jenkins said. “Many travel plans have already been made, and budgets set aside. In some cases, consumers will reallocate their budgets and cut back on dining, shopping or other trip activities.”