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STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Lately, gas prices are capturing the majority of headlines in any daily newspaper, website or television news program. But motorists don't fully grasp the escalating costs until they get behind the wheel and hit the open road.
My 100-mile trip to Philadelphia yesterday began at a Staten Island, N.Y., Sunoco APlus, but with prices at the pump there registering $3.93 for regular, $4.05 for plus and $4.13 for premium, this stop only included a trip inside the convenience store for a bottle of water.
With half a tank of gas still in my 2004 Ford Escape, continuing on in search of cheaper gas over the Goethals Bridge to New Jersey proved to be a better option. Just nine miles south, the Sunoco station at the Thomas A. Edison service area on the New Jersey Turnpike offered fuel at just $3.60 a gallon for regular. Still, $34 for a little more than nine gallons of gas hardly seemed a bargain.
The service areas along the New Jersey Turnpike and New Jersey's other famed roadway, the Garden State Parkway, prove popular with motorists because -- by law -- the gas stations along these thoroughfares can only raise prices at 7 a.m. every Friday. Aside from the price break, however, one gas station attendant told me that this particular Sunoco sees a constant flow of cars mainly because it is one of the first service areas when traveling south down the Turnpike from New York City.
Those New Jersey drivers who do not regularly travel the New Jersey Turnpike, or who choose not to pay a toll just to get cheaper gas, find the pain at the pump slightly more painful. One Shell station approximately 20 miles away on Prospect Plains Road in Monroe Township, N.J., was charging $3.69 for regular, $3.87 for plus and $3.97 for premium.
The good news is that prices improve the further south you go from New York City. For example, a Valero station on Route 206 in Bordentown, N.J., was charging $3.55 a gallon for regular. But you better pay with cash, as credit will cost $3.65 for that same gallon of regular gas.
Still, whether motorists pay $3.69, $3.60 or $3.55 for a gallon of gas, New Jersey offers the best prices in the Tri-State area. Gas prices at several stations within throwing distance of each other on Route 1 South in Pennsylvania ranged from $3.63 to $3.85.
It is hard to imagine what the traditional peak summer travel period will cost motorists if a late winter day is already hitting them where it counts -- in the wallet. The current average gas prices, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report, stand at $3.76, $3.90 and $4.03, respectively. And some experts estimate that prices could soon hit $5 a gallon. Considering average prices were only $3.48, $3.61 and $3.74 a month ago, the reality of $5-a-gallon fuel doesn't seem too far off.