Just as the summer travel season kicks into high gear, vacationers are getting the added bonus of gas prices near $3 a gallon.
It's far better than gloom-and-doom predictions of $5 a gallon earlier this year, and it's also an improvement over the Fort Worth area's $3.88 average in early April.
And prices are still dropping.
This week, the Fort Worth area's average of $3.22 was the lowest in the state, according to AAA, while the statewide average was $3.28.
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On Friday, a cluster of gas stations along Precinct Line Road in Hurst made the area average look high as they dropped prices to $3.06. By afternoon, one went even further: $3.04 at the QuikTrip at Airport Freeway.
But the decrease wasn't impressing everyone.
Smoking a cigarette outside the QuikTrip, Cindi Davis said the lower price wouldn't change her habits -- especially with Airport Freeway gridlocked because of construction.
"It's certainly better than going the other direction, but it's not going to make me go out of the way to come here," Davis said. "Now, tell me if it gets down below $2 a gallon, then I'll get excited."
Down the street at a RaceTrac, Mario Esparza was more excited. A friend had texted him that gas prices were cheaper along Precinct Line, and he decided to fill up on his lunch break.
"I can't wait until it gets to $3 a gallon -- that would be something, wouldn't it?" Esparza said. "I might even hit the road and go to the lake this weekend or go down to the coast later this summer."
Hitting the road again?
That's just what the travel and tourism industry hopes.
In a May survey of 400 AAA Texas members, 75 percent planned at least one summer trip, while 19 percent said they definitely would not travel this summer, AAA Texas spokesman Doug Shupe said. Of those who said they wouldn't travel, 42 percent cited high gas prices.
"We may see some of those who said they weren't taking a trip changing their minds, and some of those who said they were going to take one trip now may take two," Shupe said.
Nationally, AAA projects Independence Day to tie for the most travelers in the past decade, with 42.3 million Americans traveling 50 miles or more, as many as in 2007.
Sharon Parker, a spokeswoman for Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, said gas prices do influence visitors who come from markets such as Tyler, Abilene, Oklahoma City, Austin and even Houston.
"They make a weekend of it," Parker said. "We view ourselves as a destination with all of the attractions here in the entertainment district."
The success of the Texas Rangers, who have been playing to sellouts almost every night, hasn't hurt either.
Arlington is seeing more visitors than a year ago, said Decima Cooper, a spokeswoman for the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau. She said the bureau doesn't yet have precise figures.
But she also said high gas prices didn't seem to affect business.
"They didn't hurt us," Cooper said. "We welcome any drop in gas prices because it may make it more convenient for some to make that trip to Arlington who otherwise wouldn't come. But so far, we're having a really good year."
Texas wins either way
While high prices have been a pain at the pump, they and improved drilling technology have helped protect Texas from the worst of the downturn by producing a gush of unexpected tax dollars from oil and gas wells.
Six months into the state's budget year, which began Sept. 1, tax revenue was up 73 percent from a year earlier for natural gas production and up 49 percent for oil production, the Texas comptroller's office reported.
Together, oil and gas taxes in the first half of the fiscal year brought in $1.8 billion -- $684 million more than in the first half of last year, which was a blockbuster year in itself, with $2.6 billion in oil and gas tax revenue.
While some analysts predict that gasoline prices will drop below $3 by fall, others are advising caution.
A major hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico could cause a major disruption in the gasoline supply, as in July 2008, when the national average reached a record $4.11.
"We don't really forecast where it will go," said Shupe, of AAA. "Here we are in hurricane season, which could certainly influence prices and, of course, global factors also play a role. But what we've seen since April is good news."
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698