Just in time for a holiday road trip, gas prices in many places in middle of the country have dipped below $2 a gallon.
And here in Missouri, close to the geographic center of the USA, is where drivers can find the cheapest gas as of Friday, according to GasBuddy.com.
“As of this morning, there are 24 states with prices under $2 a gallon. But Missouri is lowest,” said Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy’s senior petroleum analyst.
In Springfield, gas prices at some locations have dipped to $1.96 for a gallon of regular unleaded. They’ll continue to drop for a while, DeHaan said.
Some surrounding towns like Republic and Nixa typically have even lower prices than Springfield. The last time gas hit $1.99 a gallon in Missouri was June 2009.
“It’s not guaranteed, of course. But we think they’ll drop a little more, 5 to 15 cents a gallon,” he said.
Areas east of Nashville, Tenn., also are reporting prices of less than $2.
“The gas at my exit, Stewarts Ferry Road (off Interstate 40), is $1.99,” said Doak Turner of Nashville. “Three stations next to each other is great!”
American Automobile Association travel analysts estimate that current gas prices, which are at their lowest since 2008, are likely to drop as much as 7 cents by Christmas and possibly 7 more cents by New Year’s.
Because of higher fuel taxes, some states won’t crack the $2 barrier, DeHaan said.
Thirteen states, many in the South, have gas taxes of less than 40 cents a gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute. Seventeen states’ gas taxes are more than 50 cents a gallon.
Among the states with the highest gas taxes: California at 68.87 cents, New York at 68.65 cents and Hawaii at 66.29 cents. The rock-bottom lowest gas tax? Alaska at 30.8 cents a gallon. The federal portion of that pie is 18.4 cents.
In Chicago, where DeHaan is based, the price of regular unleaded was $2.74 a gallon. Illinois’ gas tax is 57.5 cents a gallon vs. 35.7 cents in Missouri.
“I wish, but it’s not going to happen,” DeHaan said of $2 gas in the Chicago area. “There’s no way oil producers would continue producing at 99 cents a gallon. At that price, it’s more expensive for them to just pump the oil.”
But prices below $2 are possible in some high-tax states. Some Citgo stations in Western Michigan, where taxes are 57.43 cents of the per-gallon price, popped below $2 Tuesday.
“My manager came in and changed it. Everyone went crazy,” said Jessica Henke, a Citgo employee in Greenville, Mich. “I had one lady come in and hand me $10 to fill up her truck. She couldn’t believe it.”
Regular unleaded gas prices peaked this year in late June at about $3.70 a gallon nationwide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This week the nationwide average is $2.55.
The most recent gas-price plunge was triggered in September when Saudi Arabian oil officials voluntarily cut crude oil prices, DeHaan said.
The average car has a 12- to 15-gallon tank, so customers are keeping at least $14 to $17 more in their pockets now compared with six months ago. SUV and truck owners, the ones with even bigger tanks, are feeling even richer after a trip to the pump.
“It doesn’t take me much gas to go back and forth to work,” said Kathleen Sagitano, who was filling up on $1.99 gas at Fuel City in Dallas. “But still, if I can fill my tank up just once a week, that’s awesome! It’s really great. Now I wish I had a four-door truck.”
That’s the double-edged sword for many economists. People feel better off when gas prices are lower because they have more money left at the end of the week, but cheap gas also brings back a longing for bigger, less-efficient vehicles and more travel, which in the long run can hurt the environment.
Don’t expect these exceptionally low prices to last, DeHaan said. Refineries will begin switching to a more expensive summer blend of gasoline in mid-spring, which they do every year to reduce air pollution, and that higher-priced fuel will work its way to the pumps by June 1.