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No Holiday From High Gas Prices Over Labor Day Weekend

Despite a 6-cent increase in the past week, experts say fuel prices are expected to drop soon

Travelers planning to hit the road this weekend will face the highest gas prices ever recorded for Labor Day weekend in Southern California, according to the Southern California Auto Club.

The Auto Club’s Weekend Gas Watch reported that, as of Thursday morning, gas prices had spiked an average of 6.2 cents per gallon from last week in the Central Coast area, which saw the most dramatic increase of any region in Southern California.

The increase, which can be attributed to the high volume of people traveling for the three-day weekend, brought the average gas price in Santa Barbara up to $4.24 per gallon — about 9 cents above the state average of $4.153.

Despite these record prices, the Auto Club expects that 1.85 million Southern California residents will be driving to their destinations this weekend — a 3.6 percent increase from last year’s number.

Auto club spokeswoman Elaine Beno said extra money spent at the pump is inconvenient, but it’s not significant enough to cause travelers to adjust their plans.

“People who have already planned to go away for Labor Day weekend will fulfill their plans,” she said. “They might be more economical in other areas of the trip, but an extra $25 or $30 in gas is not going to make people change their minds about traveling.”

Gas prices began to climb in California earlier this month after a fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond that greatly reduced its capacity. Oil Price Information Service Executive Editor Denton Cinquegrana said the Santa Barbara area is often more susceptible to price fluctuations because its distance from major refineries makes it more difficult for gas to be transported to the region.

However, Cinquegrana said current gas prices are likely at a peak and expects to see them gradually drop soon.

“I think the worst is behind for California right now. One of the reasons why is that consumers have reacted to the high prices,” he said. “We talk about refinery fires and things like that, but at the end of the day, supply and demand does matter a lot.”

According to GasBuddy.com, Conserv Fuel on La Cumbre Road is currently the cheapest gas station at $4.09, while the Chevron station on Hollister Avenue and Storke Road is the highest priced at $4.59.

The Santa Barbara Airport has issued a news release detailing how those planning to travel by plane should prepare in order for the airport to run smoothly with the high volume of passengers. Assistant Airport Director Hazel Johns said she encourages people to make sure to get to the airport in plenty of time, and check luggage for items that violate TSA policy ahead of time in order to ensure maximum efficiency.

Law enforcement agencies will be increasing numbers of officers on duty this weekend to deal with the heavy traffic and increased number of tourists. Avoid the 12, a campaign against drunken driving run by a coalition of Santa Barbara County law-enforcement agencies, and the California Highway Patrol will be holding a DUI checkpoint somewhere in Santa Barbara from 8 p.m. Friday until 4 a.m. Saturday, and will have a special DUI task force patrolling the city from 6 p.m. Sunday night to 4 a.m. Monday.

“We will have every available officer on duty — this weekend is a maximum enforcement period,” CHP Officer Ken Ratcliff said. “We are mainly looking for distracted drivers, seatbelt violations, and drivers under the influence.”

Noozhawk intern Patrick Kulp can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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