For the first time since February 2005, gas prices in the Rogue Valley have dropped under $2.

For the first time since February 2005, gas prices in the Rogue Valley have dropped under $2.

Prices at the Arco station in Eagle Point hit $1.95 a gallon Friday. Two stations in downtown Ashland posted prices just under $2 a gallon and the Pilot station in Central Point was selling regular for $1.99 Friday afternoon.

Medford prices dropped Friday to $2.01 at the 76 station on Riverside Avenue and the Shell station on Crater Lake Avenue. It was $1.79 for Costco members in Medford.

"It's dropping because the price of crude oil is dropping," said Marie Dodds, director of government and public affairs for AAA in Portland. "It was at a record high of $147 a barrel on July 11 and it's lost more than half of that."

Gas prices in the Rogue Valley hit an average of $4.37 a gallon in early August and were still $3 a gallon just a month ago.

But smiles were abundant Friday at the Astro and 76 stations on Lithia Way in Ashland, were prices were posted at $1.98 and $1.99 respectively.

"I'm extremely excited that it's gone down at the beginning of winter because now I can go snowboarding at Bachelor, Hood and Tahoe. It took only $45 to fill up and it used to take $80," said Brian Frost of Ashland.

Dave Bottilho, manager of Abby's Pizza on Riverside in Medford, makes up to 70 deliveries a day on weekends and noted, "It's made our life a lot easier. We get a lot more distance for the dollar. We were having to raise prices (with gas over $4)." Dodds of AAA said lower prices are the result of a "faltering economy," which caused demand to fall.

"People made changes that are long-lasting," she said. "There are fewer trips. People are keeping cars tuned for better mileage. There's more biking and waling. People are not going back to their gas-guzzling ways because of the economy."

At some point the softening gas prices will find a bottom. Dodds believes that moment is near, however, she predicts the descent will continue through 2009.

"Once the economy starts to improve, gas prices will head up," she noted.

Usually, cheaper gas means more holiday travel, but Dodds said highway travel was down 1.4 percent from Thanksgiving a year ago.

Pulling into the Astro station at Lithia Way and Siskiyou Boulevard, where he'd been getting fill-ups for 45 years, Hamid Ghavam said, "It was good to see that dollar sign showing $1.98. I remember when it was 25 cents and I used to fill the tank for $4." Robert McElrath of Ashland said, "It's been a long time since I've seen it under $2. It's too bad it takes a bad economy to make it happen."

Scott Hayward of Ashland said, "It's amazing. I was getting attached to the idea of people driving less. With the market meltdown, people were finding ways to make do with less and still be happy. I hope we stick with that."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.