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Gas may creep to $4 for Fourth

FARGO - The booms and bangs of Fourth of July fireworks may be needed this weekend to drown out the grunts and groans at the pump.

Local gas prices could hit $4 a gallon by the weekend, said Gene LaDoucer, AAA spokesman for North Dakota.

"We're hopeful that won't be the case, but with oil trading at record highs, gasoline prices will likely follow at some point," he said.

Fuel prices jumped 10 cents last weekend at many Fargo-Moorhead stations.

On average, a gallon of regular gas cost $3.90 on Tuesday in the metro area, according to AAA's online fuel price finder.

North Dakota's regular gas price averaged $4.03 a gallon on Tuesday. The state average first topped $4 a gallon on June 14, and, as of Monday, North Dakota was one of 36 states where the average price was at least $4 a gallon. Minnesota's average price was $3.95 a gallon on Tuesday.

For the first time this decade, AAA estimates a drop in the number of Americans traveling during the July Fourth weekend compared with the previous year.

The association projects nearly 40.5 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the holiday weekend, down 1.3 percent from the 41 million who traveled last year. It's the second consecutive holiday that AAA has projected a decline in travel.

The association projected a 1 percent drop in travelers over Memorial Day weekend. LaDoucer said the latest projection is based on surveys conducted a few weeks ago, and the 1.3 percent reduction could be even greater depending on how gas prices behave throughout the next few days.

A gallon of gas in Fargo costs about 94 cents more than it did a year ago, and the higher gas prices are affecting travel plans, LaDoucer said.

"Our auto travel counselor reports that most trips he's helping to plan this year are closer to home than they have been in past years," he said.

That could be good news for Detroit Lakes, Minn., already a popular spot for spending July Fourth, said Cleone Stewart, tourism director for the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"I'm optimistic that it should be a good weekend," she said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., outlined a five-point plan to lower gas prices during a stop Tuesday at Gateway Service Center in downtown Fargo.

The plan calls for boosting domestic oil and natural gas production, reining in market speculation, promoting alternative fuel vehicles and fuel efficiency, offering incentives to develop and produce alternative fuels and developing coal-to-liquid fuels.

Conrad said many of the plan's measures were part of an initiative he introduced about two years ago known as BOLD, or Breaking Our Long-term Dependence. Senate leaders have agreed to hold a one-day summit in July to look at ways to combat rising gas prices, he said.

Higher gas prices are affecting not only drivers, but also homeowners who pay higher heating bills and farmers whose fertilizer costs have about doubled in the past 18 months, Conrad said.

"This is having a profound effect all across our state," he said.