Oregon gas prices have dropped to their lowest levels since September 2007, but relief at the pump couldn't come soon enough for Grants Pass resident Chile Stansbery.
The self-described "redneck hippie" is headed to Belize in a few days where the cost of living is low and the climate suits his clothes — no more long sleeves over his Grateful Dead skull tattoo.
"Fuel prices are a big reason for this," he said of his move. "It's where I can afford to live. I'm on disability."
Stansbery and Lori Magill stopped at a Shell station at East Barnett Road and East Stewart Avenue to fuel up her red sport utility vehicle Tuesday.
"I got more in my tank this time," Magill said with a smile as she handed a $20 bill to the station attendant.
Gas prices in the Medford and Ashland area have plunged 73 cents in the past month, with the average cost of a gallon of regular gas settling at $2.94 on Tuesday, AAA reported. The national average has dropped more than a dollar in the past month — the largest one-month decline on record.
Locally, gas prices were 15 cents a gallon cheaper Tuesday than they were one year earlier.
"This is great news," said Michelle Marikos, of Ashland, filling up her Kia Sorrento at the same station. "I knew it would break eventually."
She said she hadn't dramatically changed her driving habits this summer as prices reached record highs and hadn't noticed less traffic when she traveled. To avoid the painful sticker shock of a whole tank of gas, she refueled more often, just topping up a partial tank.
"I would fill up more often so it didn't cost so much all at once," she said.
Medford and Ashland gas prices hit a record high of $4.379 on July 11.
"When it was well over $4 this summer, no one thought it would be under $3 in a few short months," said AAA Oregon Public Affairs Director Marie Dodds.
AAA projects that fuel prices will continue to decline, although not as steeply as they have in recent weeks. Predictions call for the national average to hit $2.50 a gallon by Thanksgiving and to fall even more by the end of the year.
"It's a symptom of current economic conditions," Dodds said, noting that prices for stocks, real estate, oil and precious metal all have slumped recently.
"Investors are concerned about long-term demand for fuel," she said. "They don't see a huge demand, so prices are dropping."
Data released by the U.S. Department of Transportation showed that in the past 10 months, Americans have driven 78 billion fewer miles than they did in the first 10 months the previous year, AAA reported.
A rebound of fuel supplies after hurricane damage to oil-producing and refining facilities on the Gulf Coast and a strengthening dollar for buying foreign crude oil have helped push gas prices lower, too, Dodds said.
Even with the U.S. dollar gaining buying power, Ron and Irene McMillan, driving from their home in British Columbia to Arizona for the winter, still think American gas is a bargain.
Converting liters to gallons and accounting for the exchange rate, Ron McMillan calculates that his last tank of gas in Canada Monday cost him about $5 a gallon, better than the more than $6 a gallon he was paying a month ago.
"It was getting close to the prices they pay in England," he said.
Rogue Valley Manor resident Gene Ritter is glad to see prices coming down. He maintains a financial services business in Salinas, Calif., and drives there for one week each month.
"I've been paying through the nose," he said, noting that prices were even higher in California.
"It was almost $50 to fill up," he said from the driver's seat of his 2005 Cadillac — bought for comfort, not fuel economy. "Now I can do it for $30. That's $20 I can spend on my golf game."
Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail email@example.com.