Christie: Drivers shrug off higher gas prices for 4th of July, summer travel

Gas prices, which surged ahead of the July 4th holiday, are expected to keep rising through the summer. Pump prices are already the highest since 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

After weeks and weeks of dueling stories about whether gas prices will continue to go up ahead of the July 4th holiday, the consensus seems to have settled on consumers paying more at the pump.

RELATED: Christie: Um… so what’s going on with these rising gas prices?

According to Gas Buddy, which as late as last week was proclaiming a drop in the highest gas prices drivers have seen in four years, motorists hitting the road to celebrate the July 4 holiday will be shelling out an average of $2.90 per gallon, the highest Independence Day gas prices since 2014, when the national average hit $3.66 per gallon.

“Oil has surged over 10 percent just in time for summer’s busiest travel holiday, costing motorists over $1 billion more than last year,” Patrick DeHaan, a GasBuddy analyst, said in a news release. “All the ingredients exist for the national average to inch closer to $3 per gallon, just in time for the second half of the summer.”

But whether that will cause drivers to curtail or even change their travel plans is altogether another question; and most analysts don’t believe it will. They expect a record-breaking number of Americans to travel by car this holiday, and traffic to be at its worst on Tuesday in the late afternoon.

Motorists are expected in record numbers this week despite higher gas prices. ( Bloomberg / Patrick T. Fallon)

AAA, which has tracked travel numbers over Fourth of July for the last 18 years, reports that the number of on-the-road travelers will be up 5 percent from 2017. That’s despite gas prices going up an average of 62 cents across the country from a year ago.

Again, we are still pretty far from the 2014 national average and most analysts don’t believe motorists will be jarred into changing their driving habits until the price hits the psychological threshold of $3 per gallon.

They might not have to wait for long. Higher prices are expected to hang around all summer. After five-straight weeks of prices dropping, gas prices are likely to increase again as oil prices surged to $73 per barrel late Thursday, the highest since 2014. The U.S. State Department ordered buyers to curb their oil purchases from Iran by November. In addition, OPEC’s smaller-than-expected oil production increase last week fueled speculation that global inventories will continue to drop, and a government report showed U.S. oil inventories dropped three times as much as expected as total petroleum exports from the U.S. hit a new record high.

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he had received assurances from King Salman of Saudi Arabia that the kingdom will increase oil production, “maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels” in response to turmoil in Iran and Venezuela. Key OPEC member Saudi Arabia acknowledged the call took place, but mentioned no production targets.

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters aboard Air Force One as he travels to his resort in Bedminster, N.J. on Saturday. Trump said that he was pressuring Saudi Arabia and OPEC to increase oil production. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Trump wrote on Twitter that he had asked the king in a phone call to boost oil production “to make up the difference…Prices to (sic) high! He has agreed!”

A little over an hour later, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on the call, but offered few details.

“During the call, the two leaders stressed the need to make efforts to maintain the stability of oil markets and the growth of the global economy,” the statement said.

It added that there also was an understanding that oil-producing countries would need “to compensate for any potential shortage of supplies.” It did not elaborate.

Well, there you go. We’ll have to see whether the Saudis honor any agreement with the president. And even if they do, whether it will have the desired effect of pushing down gas prices.

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Regardless, even with high gas prices, most motorists aren’t likely to curtail their travel during the most popular summer holiday, due to its appeal and rich tradition celebrating the nation’s birthday.

AAA says that the Fourth of July falling on Wednesday this year has given travelers more flexibility to schedule trips either the weekend before or after the holiday. That could account for the increase is drivers this year.

Are high gas prices having an effect on your travel plans?

Christie: Um… so what’s going on with these rising gas prices?

MIAMI — Customers pump gas into their vehicles as reports indicate that the price of gasoline continues to rise. AAA forecasts the national gas price average will be as much as $2.70/gallon this spring and summer. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

For the last few weeks, there has been an elephant in the room of the (sort of) daily White House Press briefing.

As of Monday’s gaggle, no White House reporter has asked Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about what the president plans to do about rising gas prices. Not one word. Nada.

That’s kind of glaring given the fact that anyone who drives a car, truck or lawnmower  has felt some pain at the pump as gas prices have spiked the last several weeks. Again, as of Monday, the average price per gallon for unleaded gas was $2.73 in Florida and $2.85 right here in in Palm Beach County, according to AAA.

RELATED: Spring runup in gas prices has begun

Prices for gas are running at their highest in at least three years, and are expected to go even higher as Memorial Day kicks off the summer driving season. And AAA warned of potentially higher oil prices this week if President Donald Trump pulls out of the nuclear deal with Iran and imposes sanctions on that oil producing nation.

Usually, this would be fodder for Washington reporters to pound the current White House occupant on the issue, asking: “What’s the president going to do about this issue that affects literally every American household?”

Fair or not. Ever since the Arab Oil Crisis of the 1970s, no American president has been immune to this baseline pocketbook issue. Well, it seems, until now.

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The White House Press Corps can be forgiven for being a little distracted.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders calls on reporters during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Let’s see: there has been serious stuff like the above-mentioned blowing a hole in the Iran Nuclear deal and further de-stabilizing the Middle East. There’s setting up a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to broker a peace on the Korean Peninsula. There has been the less serious comedic takedown of Sanders by Comedy Central’s Michelle Wolf at the much-maligned White House Correspondents Association Dinner. And of course, the daily drumbeat of developments on the Stormy Daniels’ front — which has reached a new octane level under Trump’s new lawyer, bombastic former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Wait… what were we talking about again? Oh yeah, higher gas prices.

To be sure, the White House has continued to trumpet other (positive) economic news. On Friday, the president made sure to mention the latest jobs report that showed the unemployment rate dip below 4 percent to 3.9 percent — technically a sign of full employment.

Although it would be nice, as economists note, to see workers’ wages finally show a substantial increase as a result of that much-ballyhooed $1.5 trillion Republican tax cut.

Gas pump prices have been heading upward for months, about 50 cents more on average than a year ago. But is that enough reason for consumers to be concerned?

Could it be that higher gas prices are not as a big a deal as they were in the past?

What’s paying 50 cents more per gallon than you were a year ago mean anyway? Well, if you have a 20-gallon tank, that’s $10 more per fill-up. Average two fill-ups a month and that’s $240 more you’re paying a year. And if you still haven’t gotten rid of that big sport-utility vehicle, God help you.

There are also plenty of small businesses that depend on gas to run their operations. Pizza and other food delivery, retail florists, landscapers and those now-ubiquitous food trucks, just to name a few.

Take our poll here, and tell us what you think about rising gas prices. Are you concerned, changing any travel plans, etc.?