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Less at the pump, more in the pocket

There will be more people gassing up and getting out of town this Christmas than ever before, thanks, in part, to the lowest gas prices in five years.

This holiday season is predicted to be the nation’s busiest on record, with about 16.4 million people in the Pacific states alone traveling more than 50 miles from home in the weeks around Christmas, according to a recent AAA report.

And about 90 percent of those regional travelers will go by car, said Marie Dodds, a spokeswoman for AAA in Oregon and Idaho.

“There are three reasons for this increase — lower gas prices, increasing consumer confidence in the economy and the calendar,” Dodds explained. “With Christmas and New Year's falling on a Thursday this year, you’re getting a 13-day holiday break rather than 12 days like last year.”

The Oregon Department of Transportation is bracing itself for this influx of traffic and, in some places along Interstate 5, ceased roadwork to make room for the high volume of cars. ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming said crews had been rehabilitating lanes on the eight-mile stretch between Anlauf and Cottage Grove, but stopped so all lanes could be open.

Gas prices Thursday in the Medford-Ashland area averaged about $2.68 per gallon, down from $2.72 Wednesday, $2.89 a week ago, $3 a month ago and $3.32 a year ago.

Although Oregon has the ninth highest gas prices in the nation this week, Oregonians are paying about $1 less per gallon than they were last summer.

The U.S. has dramatically increased its domestic oil production, which is a major factor in the increasing global oil supply and bringing prices down, Dodds said.

The concern is that if prices continue to fall, domestic oil companies will no longer be able to afford to operate in the U.S., where it’s more expensive to get oil from the ground, she added. 

The reduced prices also can hurt countries, such as Venezuela and Nigeria, which are dependent on oil production.

“But for now, consumers are enjoying a holiday bonus in the form of the lowest gas prices in five years,” she said.

And so are local businesses.

Florist Sabrina Carroll, owner of B. Cazwells Floral Dezines in Medford, said she told her driver this week to go ahead and fill up the delivery van.

The flower shop is doing about 20 deliveries a day to Medford and surrounding areas, including one as far as Sams Valley. And the number of deliveries will continue to go up as Christmas approaches.

“It usually takes about $100 to fill up the van, but this week, our driver only paid $69.24,” she said, adding that the lower gas prices increase the company’s bottom line.

Rick Samuelson, a manager at Judy’s Central Point Florist and Gifts, said lower gas prices mean people have more money for “frosting,” such as bouquets for their loved ones.

“Gas prices falling is fantastic for us,” he said.

The increase in business may not be immediate, he added, but if gas prices stay down, business in January could be up about 10 percent over last year.

“Gas prices create a ripple effect,” Dodds said. “Because when people don’t have to spend the money on gas, they’ll spend it on something else.”

 Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Denise Trudeau loads some of her flower arrangements in the back of a delivery car at B Cazwell's flower shop. Falling gas prices mean consumers have more money to spend on things like bouquets. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
Regular unleaded dropped under $2.50 a gallon at the Circle K at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Barnett Road in Medford. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennelll