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High prices at pumps are fueling concerns

March 28, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - $2.11 ... $2.25 ... $3.

Just how high will the price per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline go?

Chuck Jackson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said record-high prices were recorded early last week nationally, statewide and locally.

By Friday, the prices per gallon of regular unleaded gasoline were several cents higher than on March 21 - up to $2.13 nationally, $2.12 in Maryland and $2.11 in Hagerstown, Jackson said.

Increases throughout the country have caused many to wonder if prices will climb as high as $3 per gallon in many parts of the country, he said.

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"I think the question in everyone's mind is: 'Will gasoline hit 3 per gallon?'" Jackson said. "I don't think anyone can answer that right now, including myself."

According to information released March 21 on the federal Energy Information Administration's Web site, every major region of the country has experienced a price hike for gasoline, several by more than 10 cents per gallon during a two-week stretch.

Prices are up 36 cents nationally and 35 cents on the East Coast compared with March 21, 2004, according the site. The most expensive state listed by the site March 21 was California, at $2.31 per gallon.

Jackson said it is not expected that Maryland motorists will pay the same amount per gallon as Californians, but prices in Maryland likely will following the same upward trend, especially with the busy driving season on the way.

Jackson said there generally are large spikes around Memorial Day weekend. He said last year the price of regular unleaded gasoline increased by 30 cents from March 15 to Memorial Day.

"There's no reason for us to conclude that it won't (spike again)," he said. "There's no question that we're going to see prices to continue to climb. To what level depends on a lot of factors."

Jackson said the volatile world oil market and the continued high demand for gasoline have continued to drive price increases. He said the regular spikes have yet to bring about cultural changes, such as substantial and widespread use of carpooling or public transportation.

"The question is: How high will the prices go before people change their driving habits?" Jackson said. "It's convenience, convenience, convenience. That's what we're talking about with the love of our vehicles."

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