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State

Gas prices unlikely to curb summer travel

(MCT) BLOOMINGTON — Prices at the pump may go up this summer, but likely won’t keep vacationers from hitting the open road.

Next week’s Memorial Day weekend is the traditional kickoff of the summer driving season — and the time when gasoline blends become more environmentally friendly and more expensive in accordance with federal regulations, said Jim Watson, director of the Illinois Petroleum Council.

“All refineries have to transition (to making the summer blend),” Watson said. “Memorial Day happens to come at a time when that transition is happening, so that’s always a battle. You’re going to face the supply and demand issue.”

With the price of crude oil climbing the past six weeks, to nearly $94 per barrel Thursday, Watson said that could also translate into higher gas prices, though he had no data available.

In the Twin Cities, gas prices ranged from $3.55 to $3.79 per gallon Thursday, according to data from GasBuddy.com.

But travelers are unlikely to significantly alter any travel plans for this month’s holiday weekend unless prices spike significantly during the next week, said Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for AAA Chicago. Travel estimates for the Memorial Day holiday were not available from AAA Chicago Thursday, but last year the agency estimated 1.8 million Illinoisans traveled, with most driving. At the time, gas prices were an average of $3.91 in the state.

“It’s a little bit more favorable than it has been in the past,” Mosher said. “I would speculate we’re going to see a real big Memorial Day weekend (for travel), and on into the summer.”

Lorie Highfill may be among the travelers. The 69-year-old Normal woman wants to drive to Lake Geneva, Wis., to visit a friend.

“I don’t think, honestly, that gas prices are a deterrent,” Highfill said. “You’ll figure out a way.”

While he said gas prices are terrible, they also won’t affect Henry Wright’s plans to take a long drive to Florida this summer — instead of flying as he has in the past.

“I can take my time and look around places,” said Wright, 77, of Normal. “I’m not going to see how fast I can make it.”

Strong national sales of new cars point to a stronger economy and more disposable income for vacationers, Mosher said. Hotel bookings, which have been holding steady for the past two years, have also shown signs of growth.

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©2013 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.)

Visit The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) at www.pantagraph.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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