Cheap gas _ down to 79 cents at some stations _ makes holiday driving even more attractive

Wednesday, November 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TUCKER, Ga. (AP) _ The excuses for taking to the roads this week rather than the skies have been plentiful: airport security delays, terrorism fears, a struggling economy.

But Fred Lutz says he found the best reason at the local gas pump: He filled up his Cadillac for just 88 cents per gallon.

``I haven't seen that in a long time,'' the retired airline employee said Tuesday. ``It's astounding.''

Just in time for the Thanksgiving travel rush, gas pumps in some spots across the nation are charging less than a dollar a gallon. Some suburban Atlanta stations are offering prices as low as 79 cents.

AAA Auto Club estimates that a record 87 percent of Americans who travel this Thanksgiving holiday will drive.

The shift away from flying is due in part to lingering fears from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But with an average retail gas price for all grades of $1.23 per gallon nationwide, driving also is becoming more attractive in its own right.

Average gas prices have fallen by 32 cents a gallon since Sept. 7, according to the two-week Lundberg Survey of nearly 8,000 stations.

``Isn't it incredible?'' asked Brad Proctor, president and chief executive of GasPriceWatch, Inc., which tracks fuel prices. Even in California, where air-quality issues have led to cleaner-burning ``boutique blends,'' the average price of basic unleaded was $1.40 Tuesday.

A steep drop in Americans' travel and a supply glut have depressed oil prices, with producers reluctant to cut back, at least temporarily, experts said.

In Georgia, drivers also get a break on gas prices because the state's excise tax on gas, 7.5 cents per gallon, is the nation's lowest. Montana's, at 27 cents per gallon, is highest.

Georgians also benefit from their proximity to a major pipeline that carries petroleum through Atlanta, said Dale Shuirman, motor fuel tax administrator at Georgia's Department of Revenue.

``The longer you have to haul the product, the more transport costs you get in there,'' he said.

Shuirman said he plans to ``buy as much fuel in Georgia as I can'' for his 750-mile round trip this week to Raleigh, N.C., to visit his son.

Bridgette Orren, a fourth-grade teacher at Dacula Elementary School, was heading to her parents' home in Pensacola, Fla., Tuesday night. She decided that airport hassles _ plus the $100 fee for carrying her Yorkshire terrier Maggie _ made driving a better option.

``I did think about flying, but I prefer to drive,'' said Orren, 24. ``I just feel safer driving. I know it's dangerous to drive, too, but I feel safer in my car because I'm in control.''