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Gas prices are high as holiday travel begins, but Clevelanders say the pain at the pump is bearable

Travelers are preparing for long drives ahead of the holiday weekend, and that includes filling up the tank.

Gas prices are hefty across the country as Thanksgiving weekend approaches and President Joe Biden has announced a plan to tap federal oil reserves to help alleviate the higher costs. Cleveland-area residents aren’t sure how to feel about the decision.

Around the neighborhood of Lakewood, prices ranged from about $3 to $3.50 per gallon on Tuesday morning. It could be worse, said resident Cynthia Lobaugh, who stopped to fill up her tank.

Tapping the reserves to lower prices now might be good for people with lower incomes, Lobaugh said. But she worries about the gas prices hiking again later when the reserve has already been used.

“It’s going to make it higher later if you tap the reserves now. It’s not the greatest,” Lobaugh said. “You’re biting the bullet one way or the other, either now or later. Because you don’t have the consistency.”

Lobaugh won’t be traveling for the holiday. She’s staying in town for work. But the gas prices still affect her ability to get to and from her job. She’d rather see the Biden administration wait to take this kind of step until it’s really necessary, she said, as the pain at the pumps in Ohio isn't unbearable.

“It’s not as bad as it has been. It’s been higher, it’s been a lot higher, and I imagine before Christmas it will get even better,” Lobaugh said. “So wait and tap it later.”

Her prediction may come true. According to GasBuddy, a tech company that tracks fuel prices nationwide, the nation's average price for a gallon of gas declined for the last two weeks and could drop even more as crude oil prices weaken. The national average stands at $3.39 per gallon. And while it is down a few pennies in recent weeks, it's still $1.30 higher than a year ago.

Taylor Haggerty
Ideastream Public Media
Tremont resident Michelle Blauman isn't leaving town this weekend, but she's still keeping an eye on gas prices.

Tremont resident Michelle Blauman also plans to stay in town this holiday, after traveling to visit family earlier this week. The trip to Medina wasn’t too expensive, she said, and gas prices didn’t affect her plans. Hearing that Biden plans to tap the reserves, though, raises some concerns for her, because of the negative impact of fossil fuels on the environment.

“It’s hard because I’m often torn with my environmental feelings about things,” Blauman said. “To me, hearing he’s going to tap the reserves is kind of like a cringe moment.”

She’s lived in other states where the gas prices were more variable, she said, and knows there are places now where the high cost needs to be addressed. But in Ohio, she said, it doesn’t seem that bad.

“Obviously, we don’t want to be paying upwards of $10 a gallon. We definitely understand. People rely on gas to get to work, and people rely on work for the economy,” Blauman said. “It’s definitely a juggling act with morals of environment and also economy.”

The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates travel will be almost back to pre-pandemic levels this year. Their annual forecast projects roughly 48.3 million people will travel by car, up 8 percent from 2020. As might be expected, with such tighter COVID-19 restrictions a year ago, air travel is projected to jump up by 80 percent this year, with 4.2 million estimated flyers.

In Ohio alone, about 2.2 million people are expected to travel. Cleveland Hopkins International Airport is preparing for longer lines and bigger crowds. Anyone who is driving to their destination should aim to avoid the roads between noon and 8 p.m. Wednesday, said AAA East Central spokesperson Lynda Lambert. That's when most motorists will be on the road.

“You want to get up and get out as early as possible, or maybe hang around a little while and leave a little later in the day,” Lambert said. “Even on Thursday morning, if you can.”

AAA also is expecting to rescue about 400,000 people on the side of the road this year, Lambert said. She recommends getting a full vehicle check-up from a trusted mechanic to make sure everything is in order. As for gas prices, Lambert said, a few extra cents likely won’t keep anyone from making the trip to see family.

“People are going to spend the money to be with their family and friends, especially this year with all the pent-up demand,” Lambert said. “They’ll just budget accordingly, maybe cut back in other areas and pay that $3.40 a gallon for gas.”

Especially for those traveling by air, AAA recommends checking requirements for vaccination status at the destination prior to arrival, as well as anywhere you plan to spend time during the holiday.
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