Gas prices high as Memorial Day weekend arrives

Ohioans are planning to hit the road in droves this Memorial Day weekend after the pandemic led many to stay home last year, according to a new analysis by AAA.

However, those drivers can expect to pay for their newfound freedom at the pump with gas prices across the state at their highest levels since 2014, AAA says.

The travel club estimates that 1.7 million Ohioans will travel farther than 50 miles, 95% of them by car. That translates to a 57% rise in Memorial Day travel from last year’s record low.

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“As more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows, Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a prepared statement.

Despite the surge, traffic volumes have not fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels quite yet, said Matt Bruning, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation. Traffic counts in Northeast Ohio are still off about 8% compared to the same time last year, he said.

Similarly, Kimberly Schwind, the senior manager of public affairs at AAA Ohio, said that the company’s travel projections are still down 14% from 2019 travel levels.

“We have recovered leaps and bounds from where we were last year, but we’re still not 100% to where we were in 2019,” she said.

Drivers hoping for a cheap getaway this weekend may be disappointed.

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The price of regular gas averaged $2.94 in the Dayton on Friday up about 10 cents from a month ago and up just under a dollar from this time last year, according to an AAA tracker.

Schwind said the key contributors to the rise in prices are an increasing demand for travel as the weather warms up, vaccination rates improving and pandemic restrictions being rolled back.

That effect has also been seen in the increase in the price of crude oil, which is refined into gasoline, as economies around the world recover, she said.

Schwind said the panic buying and supply network disruptions along the Atlantic Coast that followed the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack earlier this month had ripple effects in Ohio.

“Even though we don’t get our gas from the Colonial Pipeline, it only exacerbated the strain on the supply chain that was already present,” she said.

Finally, a national shortage of long-distance truckers is also playing a role in the high prices, she said.

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“We don’t expect to see prices dropping much any time soon so they’ll probably remain at these levels throughout the summer,” Schwind added.

Despite the prices, Schwind said many Ohioans are ready to return to the road after a year and a half staying home.

“For the travel industry, the great news is that people want to get out and travel and they continue to want to travel in greater numbers,” she said. “But it’s going to take a while to get back to where it was.”

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