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Published: Thursday, 5/26/2011

Price of fuel spikes for holiday travelers

Problem at Illinois refinery is blamed

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The sign at the Shell station at Monroe and Ontario streets near downtown Toledo displays the new reality. Prices soared about 30 cents in the metro area Wednesday. A market analyst said that although oil supplies are plentiful, gasoline supplies remain tight because refineries are vulnerable to problems such as the one reported at a facility near Chicago. The sign at the Shell station at Monroe and Ontario streets near downtown Toledo displays the new reality. Prices soared about 30 cents in the metro area Wednesday. A market analyst said that although oil supplies are plentiful, gasoline supplies remain tight because refineries are vulnerable to problems such as the one reported at a facility near Chicago.
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A sharp rebound in area gasoline prices Wednesday didn't discourage North Toledoan Herman Blankenship from plans to go camping in Indiana on Memorial Day weekend.

"It'll just cost more," he said.

That didn't mean he was happy about the $3.79 a gallon he paid at the Pilot Travel Center on Alexis Road off I-75. "Every time you turn around, it goes up," Mr. Blankenship said. "The price of oil doesn't fluctuate as fast as it does at the gas pump."

But an analyst with a Web site that uses volunteers to track retail gasoline prices said the price jump Wednesday-- as much as 30 cents in some areas -- had little to do with the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, and AAA said nationwide prices that remain significantly higher than they were a year ago aren't discouraging many from traveling.

Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with the gasbuddy.com Web site, attributed the price spike entirely to a refinery problem reported this week in Joliet, Ill., outside Chicago.

The production outage at the Ex- xonMobil refinery caused a surge of panic gasoline buying that sent regional wholesale prices soaring early in the week, Mr. DeHaan said.

"I don't think there would have been a jump at all" leading up to Memorial Day without the refinery issue, he said.

Although oil prices have retreated in recent weeks after rising sharply this spring, refinery capacity in the United States is vulnerable to problems like this one, Mr. DeHaan said. "There is plenty of crude oil available, but gasoline supply remains tight," he said.

April Cochran, marketing director for AAA Northwest Ohio, said she was among those who filled up just before the price spike took hold in Toledo, paying $3.589 a gallon.

"As I was pulling away, they were bringing it up to $3.89," she said.

Ms. Cochran's organization predicted that despite gasoline prices about $1.07 higher per gallon, on a nationwide average, than they were a year ago, a slightly higher number of Americans expect to travel more than 50 miles from home this weekend. The auto club's preholiday survey predicted 34.9 million travelers, a 100,000 increase over the number in 2010, although car travel was expected to decline by about as many; a jump in air travel accounts for the difference.

Sixty percent of survey respondents said fuel prices would not influence their travel plans, and most of the rest said they would try to offset pricier gasoline by economizing in areas such as meals or lodging. Only about 9 percent said they would take shorter trips or travel by an alternative mode of transportation to save on fuel.

Drivers heading out from Toledo have the most to fear from construction if the Ohio Turnpike is part of their route. Two major projects remain in place on the turnpike's western half during the holiday weekend.

A four-mile stretch in western Fulton County, near the Archbold interchange, is reduced to one lane each way for resurfacing, with westbound traffic crossing over to use the eastbound left lane. Long delays are likely during peak travel times.

The turnpike is reduced to two lanes each way east of Fremont for pavement reconstruction, with a split-traffic pattern for westbound motorists.

The lane closings affect nine miles on the westbound side and six miles eastbound -- but the Sandusky County construction is likely to cause less congestion than the reduction from two lanes to one west of Wauseon.

Toledo-area freeways will be in relatively good shape during the long weekend. The main hassle caused by ongoing I-475 reconstruction in West Toledo is the long-term closing of three eastbound entrance ramps, at Monroe Street, Douglas Road, and Central Avenue.

In East Toledo, Wheeling Street is closed at I-280 for bridge replacement, but all freeway lanes will be open.



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