The cost of gasoline across the Valley has reached a record high, and experts say prices will continue their upward rise through the summer and into the fall.
The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas reached $2.40 across the metro region, with the East Valley averaging a penny less per gallon, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report. That compares with a year ago when the average per-gallon price of regular gas was $1.89 in the East Valley and $1.90 across the region.
"The last time gas was under $2 a gallon in the East Valley was March 3, 2005 at $1.996. This has been the longest time that we’ve been over $2," said David Cowley, spokesman for AAA Arizona.
Despite the long stretch of high gas prices, the East Valley hasn’t yet topped the record per-gallon price set on April 29 of $2.401, Cowley said.
For some East Valley residents, like Nolan Baldwin of Gilbert, rising fuel prices are an irritating fact of life.
"Look at the price of diesel, it really makes me mad," Baldwin said, as he paid $75 to fill his diesel truck with 28 gallons of fuel at the Shell station at Warner and Gilbert Roads in Gilbert.
As a co-owner of Day Break Construction, Baldwin uses his truck for work and can’t change his fuel costs.
"I’ve got a stucco business and I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to go out to jobs, take a look at prospective ones," Baldwin said.
And personally, Baldwin said he’s not reducing family trips up north.
"When it first goes up, I say that I’m going to cut back but after a while then I think, ‘You know, I’m just going to do it,’ " he said.
That’s the same reasoning that Greta Koehnemann of Gilbert uses. A wife and mother of two, Koehnemann still runs around with her children and manages her household as usual despite higher prices.
"I think we’re conscious of it. We think about it and we complain about it," Koehnemann said, as she filled up her minivan on the way to pick up her father from a doctor’s appointment.
But for Marsha Philbee of Scottsdale, higher gas prices have cut into her fixed income and she’s staying home more often as a result.
"I’ve had to cut my driving way back. It’s horrible," Philbee said.
The picture isn’t likely to improve any time soon, analysts say.
"We don’t see oil prices falling off in the near term, so gas prices would also tend to stay high," said David Costello, an economist with the Energy Information Administration in Washington, D.C.
Much of the higher gas costs can be attributed to the higher price of crude oil, which reached a new intraday record of $62.50 before closing at $60.86, down $1.03, on the New York Mercantile Exchange in Wednesday’s trading.
"Our assessment is that the general expectation for crude oil is that prices will stay high, but not necessarily go up significantly from where they are now," Costello said. "We don’t really see relief from this any time soon and next year, our forecast is pretty much the same."
Unlike the gas shocks of the 1970s, this era’s fuel prices have been on a "quiet rise," said Don Wehbey, senior economist with the Arizona Department of Economic Security.
Consumers have endured the rising prices and learned to live with them without making major adjustments, Wehbey said.
But with gas prices expected to continue upward, Wehbey said consumers need to factor that into their finances.
"Look ahead and budget your gasoline expenses," Wehbey said.