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High gas prices take toll on travel

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Record-high Labor Day gas prices and the remnants of Hurricane Isaac led to a drop in traffic on the West Virginia Turnpike over the holiday weekend, the head of the state Parkways Authority said Tuesday.

Traffic on the 88-mile connector between Charleston and Princeton was down 1.77 percent compared to the holiday weekend last year, General Manager Greg Barr said.

Turnpike tollbooths logged 413,405 transactions Friday through Monday, down 7,456 from 2011.

Travel firm AAA had projected a 3 percent increase in Labor Day travel, but that forecast was made before Hurricane Isaac emerged last week.  

Isaac forced the shutdown of oil production facilities around the Gulf of Mexico, which caused prices nationwide to surge to a new Labor Day record. Gulf facilities supply about 23 percent of the nation's oil supply.

Last week, many local stations raised prices to $3.99 as supply shortages drove up wholesale prices.

Barr said that sharp rise in gas prices, combined with lingering effects of Hurricane Isaac, could have caused people to change weekend travel plans.

"We had that spike in gas last week, and maybe there was some concern throughout the northeast that the remnants of Isaac were going to be hitting the area," he said.

Turnpike traffic has trended higher in recent months. Overall traffic was up 2.7 percent over the prior year during the first seven months of 2012.

Based on that upswing, Barr said the authority built in a 1 percent increase in toll revenue into the current fiscal year budget.

"Hopefully this storm and these gas prices won't have a negative impact on that forecast," Barr said.

Gas prices were expected to come down once Gulf refineries and production facilities came back online following the hurricane.

Local prices began to drop over the weekend, with some stations selling regular unleaded in the mid-$3.70 range.

Barr said he's seen industry forecasts that predict prices will continue to fall over the coming months. He said lower prices could boost travel going into the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.

"By October, (forecasts) were projecting the price should come back down by 20 percent," he said. "I hope that they're right about that."

Contact writer Jared Hunt at or 304-348-5148.


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