Holiday travel is typically a mad rush but there's one bit of news that will please drivers: gas prices are down in the Midwest compared to last year.
The average price in Illinois this time last year was $4.26 per gallon. This year drivers will pay $3.92 on average. In Indiana, the price is down to $3.76 from $4.03 last year.
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The Minnesota average of $3.49 is 78 cents lower than last year, the biggest drop in the nation. Drivers in North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas are all paying at least 50 cents per gallon less.
The national average will be within a penny or two of $3.64 per gallon for the third year in a row.
Midwestern prices are down a bit because refineries that had been taken offline for upgrades to handle cheaper Canadian crude oil are back online.
Pennsylvania drivers are paying $3.77 per gallon on average. That’s 27 cents higher than last year, the biggest increase in the country. Drivers in the Carolinas and Alabama are paying at least 20 cents more than last year, though they are paying less than the national average.
As usual, California drivers are paying the most in the lower 48 states, at $4.15 per gallon, about 10 cents higher than last Memorial Day weekend.
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Between 2003 and 2008 average retail gasoline prices more than doubled, reaching an all-time high of $4.11 per gallon in 2008. Prices then collapsed as the U.S. plunged into recession. But after a two-year run-up between 2009 and 2011, the price of gasoline has remained in a range of roughly $3.25 to $3.75 per gallon.
Drivers can handle that, according to AAA, and are ready to head out for Memorial Day driving trips in the highest numbers since 2005.
“It is unlikely that gas prices will have a significant effect on travel plans compared to a year ago,” AAA wrote in its annual Memorial Day forecast.
The firm predicts roughly 36 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home for the Memorial Day weekend.
"The economy has really turned around and we're noticing that in particularly the number of air travelers, it's up 4.3 percent in Illinois," said AAA spokeswoman Beth Mosher. "That's very, very significant. But we have to remember that people were booking this travel when we were having that harsh weather. They were really ready to get away and they're doing it this weekend."
Steady gasoline prices nationwide are largely the result of relatively steady crude oil prices, even though there has been a long list of global supply disruptions and political turmoil that that typically would push the price of oil higher.
Sanctions have sharply cut output from Iran, once the world’s third largest oil exporter. Libya went through civil war, and labor and political disruptions continue to limit its exports. Venezuela’s oil output has been steadily declining for a decade. Most recently, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is raising concerns that sanctions will impact production or exports from Russia, the world’s second largest exporter after Saudi Arabia.
But rising crude output in countries such as the U.S., Canada and Brazil have offset the declining supply elsewhere, helping to keep prices steady.
Approaching this Memorial Day, the national average is $3.65 per gallon, according to AAA, OPIS and Wright Express. Last year on the holiday it was $3.63 per gallon. In 2012 it was $3.64.
To keep holiday travel safe and enjoyable, Mosher reminded that all passengers in a vehicle should buckle up and all cell phone use should be relegated to a passenger.
"The driver really needs to focus on driving because the roads are so crowded," she said.