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Prices at pump plague drivers

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Gas prices are higher this February than any February in the past, and local motorists are looking for ways to spend less money filling their tanks.

With gas prices reaching as high as $3.70 a gallon in the past week, local motorists have started planning their routes for errands so they don’t backtrack and have rearranged family budgets to afford the higher cost.

As of Wednesday, local gas prices hovered around $3.60 a gallon, down slightly from the $3.70 a gallon residents saw last weekend. Those prices are at least 20 cents higher than the $3.40 average price per gallon local residents paid at the same time last year, according to GasBuddy.com.

And in 2011, gas prices in February were even cheaper at a national average of about $3.17 a gallon, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

University of Indianapolis economist Matt Will said gas prices routinely rise in the spring, as more people hit the roads for vacations and short trips. But the prices are higher earlier this year because three U.S. petroleum refineries closed last year, causing a gas shortage, and the value of the American dollar currently is weaker due to the nation’s struggling economy, he said.

A weaker dollar means the same currency in another country is valued higher than the American dollar, Will said. And that means American oil companies have to pay more to buy oil because the dollar is not valued as high as it used to be.

“The price of oil is determined in large part based on the strength of the dollar. When the dollar get stronger, oil becomes cheaper,” he said.

Only a nationwide movement, such as converting all cars to electric hybrids, will cause gas prices to go down, Will said. Motorists can expect the prices to be even higher as the travel season begins, he added.

Franklin resident Darice Sheppard said she drives about 20 miles to and from work every day and the rising price is hard to afford. She fuels up more often to lessen the blow. But she has to pay the higher prices because she has to get to work.

“Either I need to get a raise or the gas prices need to go down,” Sheppard said.

Franklin resident Matt Fischer still fills up his 22-gallon tank every two weeks, like normal, but pays more for the same amount than he did a month ago.

A retiree living on a fixed income, he said the increasing prices have caused him to make adjustments elsewhere in his budget to make sure he has enough money for gas.

“They’re way too high. Everybody’s are too high everywhere,” Fischer said. “I have to drive.”

Plainfield resident Don Lane said he also has noticed the higher gas prices and has changed his routine because of them. Now, before running errands, he maps out where he needs to go so that he isn’t wasting fuel on the trip.

“I think about where I’m going before I go,” he said. “I want to be as efficient as possible.”

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