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AAA: Travelers unfazed by gas prices

FARGO - Sue Erickson of Fargo spent last Memorial Day relaxing 45 miles away in Detroit Lakes, Minn., but she's leaning against making the trip again this year.

The retired paraprofessional said it'll depend on the weather and how much the price of gas drops between now and then.

"I'm glad it's going down a little," she said Thursday while filling up her Chevy Impala at the Petro Serve USA at Interstate 94 and South University Drive.

Despite higher gas prices than a year ago, the number of Americans who will travel during the Memorial Day holiday weekend is expected to be up slightly over last year, according to an outlook released Thursday by AAA.

The auto club projects an increase of 100,000 travelers, or 0.2 percent, over the 34.8 million people who traveled 50 miles or more from home during last year's Memorial Day holiday period. This year's period is defined as May 26 to May 30.

In the region that includes Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, 14.4 percent of the population is expected to travel, compared with a national average of 11.1 percent.

However, the region's average distance traveled - 548 miles - will be "considerably shorter" than the national average of 792 miles, the outlook states.

"Last year we experienced a gain of more than 14 percent in Memorial Day travel. This year we expect to add slightly to that gain due, in part, to an improvement in the overall domestic economic picture," AAA North Dakota spokesman Gene LaDoucer said in a news release. "When necessary, travelers will compensate for higher fuel costs by cutting other areas of their travel budgets."

The national average price for regular unleaded gasoline was $3.91 per gallon on Thursday, compared with $2.85 per gallon a year ago, according to AAA's website. Average prices per gallon Thursday were $3.94 in North Dakota, $3.88 in Minnesota and $3.84 in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Despite the higher cost of gas, 88 percent of holiday travelers plan to travel by car during the holiday weekend, said AAA, which based its projections on economic forecasting and research by Boston-based IHS Global Insight.

A survey of those who intend to travel found that 60 percent said rising gas prices wouldn't affect their travel plans. Of those who said their plans would be affected, 70 percent indicated they will economize in other areas, and the rest will take shorter trips or alternative modes of transportation, AAA's news release stated.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528