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Despite rising gas prices, more Arizonans head out for the holidays by car

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To Grandmother's house

AAA Arizona estimates that three-quarters of a million state residents will hit the highway for Thanksgiving this year, despite gas prices that are still relatively high. Its Thanksgiving travel predictions:

• 45 percent of Arizona travelers will leave on Nov. 21.
• 36 percent plan to return on Nov. 25.

Arizona:
• Auto travelers: 750,136
• Air travelers: 51,510
• Other travelers: 56,177
• Total travelers: 857,823

United States:
• Auto travelers: 39.1 million
• Air travelers: 3.1 million
• Other travelers: 1.4 million
• Total travelers: 43.6 million


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WASHINGTON – The number of Arizonans taking Thanksgiving trips by car will likely increase for a fourth straight year, despite higher gas prices and a report showing state residents now spend almost 6 percent of their incomes on gasoline.

The report by the Natural Resources Defense Council said Arizonans spent an average of $481 more for gas in 2011 than in 2010, putting Arizona squarely in the middle states when it comes to the gas-cost burden.

And prices have risen since then, according to AAA Arizona, to an average of $3.47 a gallon, up from $3.29 a year ago – an 18-cent-per-gallon increase. But they have recently started to drop and are expected to continue do to so, AAA Arizona spokeswoman Linda Gorman said Monday.

“Arizonans are paying more for gas than they were this time last year,” Gorman said. “But compared to February prices, they have started to fall and we expect that to continue.”

Last Thursday AAA Arizona reported that gas prices in the state had fallen for the third week in a row, reaching a three-month low.  Unless the weather has an influence, prices should continue to fall through the holiday season, Gorman added.

“This is typically the time of year were prices tend to go down until about January,” Gorman said. “But the thing that could have an impact is cold weather, which tends to increase the price of heating oil and brings up the price of all other oils.”

AAA Arizona predicts that more than 750,000 Arizonans will travel by car this Thanksgiving and an additional 51,500 will travel by air.

Gorman said the total number of people traveling for Thanksgiving is moving back toward where it was before the recession, when Thanksgiving travel fell 25 percent nationally in 2008.

But as more travelers will be hitting the road this Thanksgiving, the Natural Resources Defense Council was advocating for state governments to take steps toward decreasing the country’s dependency on oil.

“We must continue fighting to reduce our dependence on oil,” Deron Lovaas, the council’s federal transportation policy director, said Monday. Lovaas said states can help reach that goal by “advancing public transit, clean fuels and smart growth, or by the government supporting development of advanced vehicles and actions that save oil.”

The council’s report, “Fighting Oil Addiction,” ranked Arizona 22nd nationally for actions the state has taken to reduce its oil dependency. That ranking was down from 18th place in the council’s report last year.

The report said that every state was more vulnerable to shocks at the gas pump in 2011 than in 2010.

Arizonans in 2011 spent an average of $2,118, or 5.9 percent of their income on gas, which ranked 27th in the nation, according to the report. Mississippi drivers spent the greatest portion on their income on gas, at almost 9 percent in 2011, while Connecticut drivers came in at the bottom with about 3.5 percent of their 2011 incomes going to gasoline.

Gorman said there has not been a lot done in Arizona to reduce the state’s oil dependency, beyond switching the type of oils sold in the state a few years back.

“I don’t think that is a discussion that we have had a lot of in Arizona,” Gorman said. “The type of gasoline that we do burn though is cleaner burning. That has resulted in cleaner air.”