"Pay at the pump" is taking on new meaning as motorists prepare to head out for the Memorial Day weekend.
Colorado Springs-area gas prices averaged $2.785 for a gallon of unleaded regular Monday - an almost 53-cent increase from a year ago and reaching their highest level locally since they averaged $2.80 in August 2015. That's according to a survey of 246 Springs-area gas outlets by GasBuddy.com, the online service that tracks prices nationwide.
AAA, the national travel organization, found prices in Colorado Springs on Monday averaged a fraction higher at $2.793, also 53 cents above last year at this time.
Motorists traveling outside Colorado Springs will find similar trends.
Nationally, gas prices averaged $2.929 per gallon Monday for regular unleaded, up by nearly 57 cents from last year, GasBuddy.com said. AAA's national average was nearly identical at $2.927. Prices nationwide are at their highest level since early November 2014.
Oil prices on the rise for weeks are the primary reason for higher gas costs, said Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy's head of petroleum analysis, in a summer forecast. OPEC production cuts, the United States' exit from its nuclear deal with Iran, declining domestic oil inventories and strong demand are among factors that have driven up oil prices, he said.
So as prices rise, should motorists expect to pay $3 a gallon this summer? Probably - especially if a refinery shuts down or international tensions heat up, both of which would lead to further oil and gas price raises, DeHaan said.
"With refineries now well positioned for the summer months, we may see some relief in mid-June," he said. "But expect this summer to remain the priciest since 2014, with a strong likelihood of the national average hitting the psychological $3-per-gallon barrier sometime this summer should we see any unexpected outages or geopolitical tensions flare."
The era of cheap gas isn't necessarily over though, said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. Prices might hover around the $3 mark, but they shouldn't go much higher, he said.
"We're not going to see a lot more spikes, except over the holiday weekends like Memorial Day, when we'll see a sharp spike upward, which is usually addressed in the following weeks when it comes back down," McKinley said.
"I don't think we're just going to see prices climb up and up and up throughout the summer. I think we're reaching the point where we hit a plateau. Prices are a little bit higher this year than they are normally for summer driving season. But the real distinction is, they got to that point much faster."
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