By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
With Memorial Day Weekend around the corner, travelers on U.S. 64 exiting into Tarboro could discover some of the cheapest gas in North Carolina.
On Wednesday, Murphy Express reported the cheapest gas at $3.35 while Hadi's, Raceway and Hess prices were one cent higher.
According to a news release by AAA Carolina, the average price for gas in North Carolina is $3.43, down 37 cents since peaking on Feb. 22. The average price is 12 cents per gallon less than on May 22, 2012. Wilmington has the state's highest gas prices at $3.45 on average. Boone and High Point gas prices at $3.37, join Tarboro among the state's cheapest.
The state average of $3.43 is the ninth-lowest in the country.
For Tarboro native Deborah Shaw, she welcomes the drop. Over the past few months, Shaw has been traveling back and forth to Washington, D.C. to attend to an ill aunt. Shaw's aunt died Monday and she made the trip back to D.C. on Tuesday and was back in Tarboro on Wednesday. She plans to go back again to D.C. for the funeral Saturday.
"When I first start going up there I was paying $3.99 per gallon (for mid-grade) and it cost me between $60 and $70 dollars one way," she said. "Since it has gone down, it costing me about $45 to $50. I can tell a big difference. I hope that it goes down even more."
The decrease in prices is helping to fuel the increase in holiday travel. An estimated 897,300 North Carolina motorists, a 1.5 percent increase over last year, are expected to hit the road as the summer travel season kicks off this Memorial Day weekend.
"Lower gas prices and a slowly improving economy means more people will travel this holiday weekend to spend time with family and friends," said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. "This weekend's favorable weather forecast will also encourage many last-minute travelers to get away for Memorial Day."
A total of 1,017,200 North Carolinians are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home, with a drop in those flying to 59,900, down 5 percent from 63,100 last year. Other travel (bus, rail, maritime) is expected to remain flat at 60,000.
North Carolina motorists will enjoy lower gas prices in South Carolina - currently the lowest in the country at $3.24, Tennessee ($3.28) and Virginia ($3.40), but slightly higher prices in Georgia ($3.46). Anyone heading to the Midwest will experience sticker shock, as gas prices in Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota and Nebraska have surged to more than $4 a gallon, due to refinery outages and extended maintenance.
Trips are expected to be longer, up from 570 miles last year to 737 miles this year. Average national hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are up 4 percent to $166 per night, compared to $160 last year, while AAA Two Diamond hotels remain unchanged at $120 per night. Car rental rates will average $43 per day, up 19 percent from last year and the highest in the past four years.
The most congested times for travel are expected to be Friday afternoon and evening, with traffic increasing earlier in the day than usual, as well as Monday evening, as travelers head back home.
(AAA Carolina assisted with this article.)