WILKES-BARRE — Local drivers are starting to see a slight bump at the pump, but gas prices are expected to climb even further and that could affect travel over the Labor Day weekend.
AAA Mid-Atlantic reports the historic Harvey storm is driving up gas prices nationwide — they could go up as much as 10 percent by Labor Day. But locally, increases are just getting started.
Unprecedented amounts of rain in and around the Gulf Coast is affecting homes, businesses and oil refineries, AAA says. About one quarter of the refining capacity in the region has been knocked offline.
The national average could climb to $2.50 as a result of Harvey, AAA said. The last time the national average reached $2.50 was Aug. 28, 2015.
In Wilkes-Barre, AAA says the immediate impact is not as dramatic. But states east of the Mississippi River are expected to feel the biggest impact over the next seven to 10 days.
• At $2.53 per gallon, the Wilkes-Barre area gas price average went up a penny overnight but is unchanged over last week.
• At $2.55 per gallon, Wednesday’s Pennsylvania gas price average was up a penny over last week.
“Despite the country’s overall oil and gasoline inventories being at or above five-year highs, until there is clear picture of damage and an idea when all refineries can return to full operational status, gas prices will continue to increase,” said Jana L. Tidwell, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Pump prices are expected to climb at least through the Labor Day weekend, when drivers could pay the highest gas prices for the holiday in two years.”
As cataclysmic as it is, AAA said Harvey is no Hurricane Katrina. The 2005 disaster caused pump prices to jump as much as 30 cents a gallon in some places in one day, before quickly hitting $3 a gallon and above for the first time ever across the nation and prompting crude oil prices to spike briefly to above $70 per barrel.
Turnpike expects heavy travel
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission on Wednesday projected 3.5 million motorists will travel the turnpike system during the six-day travel period Thursday through Tuesday.
“The summer travel season closes out this weekend and traffic is expected to be heavy as motorists take advantage of final summer getaways,” said PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton. “We have planned accordingly so motorists will not be detained by any scheduled maintenance or construction projects. All lanes are slated to be open and additional safety, maintenance and PA State Police patrols will be on our roadway to address additionally traffic needs.”
Beginning 5 a.m. Friday until 11 p.m. Tuesday, all lanes in each direction of the turnpike will be open. All scheduled maintenance and construction projects will be suspended during these times.
The most heavily traveled day is expected to be Friday, with approximately 750,000 vehicles on the turnpike. Thursday will also be busy, with approximately 670,000 vehicles.
Compton said motorists should also be aware that after the holiday weekend, the turnpike will begin removing call boxes that are installed intermittently along the roadway.
“We have approximately 1,000 call boxes that, prior to cell phones, safety patrols and road cameras, were used by motorists who had broken down along the roadway and may need some type of assistance,” said PA Turnpike Chief Operating Officer Craig Shuey. “Our review and analysis shows that use of those boxes has declined to the point that each box may only be used once a year, while maintenance of the call boxes costs $250,000 a year. More importantly, it is much safer for motorists to stay in their car and report any incidents from their own phone.”