Travelers dig deep for gas, then hit the road

Whether they’re coming or going, rising gasoline prices don’t appear to be impacting area residents’ travel plans for Memorial Day weekend.

“I don’t think we’re too affected by that,” said Barlow resident Jo Gibson, 55, who will spend the long weekend gathering with family from Dayton at her parents’ house here in Washington County. “It is something we can’t change.”

The average price for a gallon of regular, unleaded gasoline in the Marietta area Thursday was $3.703, more than 3 cents less than the same period last year, said Bevi Powell, vice president of community relations at AAA East Central in Pittsburgh. But it represents a jump of more than a dime a gallon over last week and nearly 8 cents from a month ago.

“There have been some refinery issues with the midwest refineries switching over to the summer blend,” Powell said.

Memorial Day weekend represents the start of the summer travel season, and that’s usually when demand rises, Powell said. But the demand isn’t as great this year, and prices aren’t expected to climb much higher, barring severe weather events or other refinery concerns, she said.

The price of oil right now is between $90 and $95 a barrel, well below the $150-a-barrel price when record highs eclipsed $4 a gallon in 2008, Powell said.

AAA expects more people to travel by car this holiday weekend than last year, but overall travel should be down because of a projected 8 percent drop in air travel.

“AAA is forecasting Memorial Day travel to be slightly lower this year due to an to an up-and-down economy, the impact of the end of the payroll tax holiday on working families and a 30-year low in the percentage of working-age people in the workforce,” said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet in a release from the federation of affiliated motor clubs.

An estimated 31.2 million travelers, 89 percent of the total, are expected to make a journey of more than 50 miles by automobile, up from 31.1 million last year, according to AAA. Meanwhile, air travel is expected to drop from 2.5 million in 2012 to 2.3 million this year.

Marietta resident Gilda Bills said her family doesn’t always travel for Memorial Day but this year they’re heading to Lake Snowden near Athens to camp with her daughter and son-in-law. Fuel prices won’t be a factor, she said.

“Not this weekend, ’cause it’s our daughter’s birthday,” Bills said.

Gasoline likely won’t deter the family’s annual trek to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., this summer either.

“We’d still go to Tennessee,” Bills said. “Our grandson, he’s 10, and he likes it down there.”

The Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau is expecting plenty of folks to take advantage of local attractions over the long weekend, whether they’re out-of-towners or residents.

“You can expect a lot of boaters, people out dining and shopping,” said Casey Knowlton, public relations and social media coordinator for the bureau. “Usually having the extra day on the weekend gives people an extra chance to get outside and maybe do some things they haven’t done before.”

But that’s not the case for Reno resident Jeff Reisberger, 66.

“I’m just going to try to enjoy the day at the house,” he said, adding that he’ll leave the attractions and activities to “the working people” on Monday.

“I’m retired,” Reisberger said. “I can do those kind of things through the week.”

And not everyone has the day off.

“I’m working, actually,” said Ellie Barnhart, 25, of Marietta.