Gas prices are Memorial Day weekend wild card

2013-05-22T15:30:00Z 2013-05-23T23:53:32Z Gas prices are Memorial Day weekend wild cardKeith Benman keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

Americans will be traveling slightly farther on average to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend this year, but gas prices in the Midwest may have drivers locally looking for ways to skimp on some of their fun.

The AAA's Memorial Day weekend travel forecast shows Americans will be traveling about 7 percent farther on average while it's Fuel Gauge Report shows average gasoline prices are significantly higher in the Midwest than nationwide.

Regular gasoline at the pump in Northwest Indiana was averaging $4 per gallon Wednesday, which is 17 cents more per gallon than last year at this time. In the greater Chicago area, a gallon of regular averaged $4.24 per gallon, which is 15 cents more than last year. 

Those prices compare to a national average of just $3.66 per gallon of regular, which is 2 cents lower than last year at this time.

The planned maintenance closure of an Exxon Mobil refinery in Joliet and the months-long closure of the largest distillation unit at the BP Whiting refinery are both playing a prominent role in what is happening with gasoline prices in the Midwest, according to Beth Mosher, a spokeswoman for the AAA Chicago Auto Club.

"Between the two of those, it's having a very large effect on gasoline prices in the entirety of the Midwest," Mosher said.

A BP spokesman contacted this week said it's not clear the Midwest supply-and-demand situation with gasoline prices at the pump can be attributed solely to the BP situation and Exxon's scheduled work.

BP spokesman Scott Dean notes the BP distillation unit closure was planned as part of the switchover to the new unit built as part of its $3.8 billion refinery expansion. He said the work on the new distillation unit is scheduled to wrap up by June. Two other large distillation units there have remained in operation.

The good news for motorists in Northwest Indiana and the south suburbs of Chicago this Memorial Day weekend is that there currently is only one mega-construction project underway. That is the $600 million Illinois Tollway project to directly connect Interstate 294 and Interstate 57 in the Markham area. As part of project, the Illinois Department of Transportation also just began the reconstruction of 147th Street from Western Avenue to Kedzie Avenue.

Motorists can expect lane restrictions and closures in that area. Even with the holiday construction moratorium some lane restrictions will stay in place.

In Calumet City, road and traffic signal work have begun on the $582,600 Burnham Avenue project at River Oaks Drive, which will lead to lane closures in that area for the next couple of months, according to IDOT.

The Indiana Department of Transportation will be implementing a roadwork moratorium from noon Friday until the morning hours of Tuesday in order to make holiday travel safer and more efficient, said INDOT spokesman Matt Deitchley.

However, lane restrictions will continue on some expressway projects. And the Nine Span Bridge, in Hammond, remains closed for demolition and construction of a new bridge.

Lane restrictions remain in place on U.S. 12 along Fifth Avenue in Gary from three miles west of Interstate 65 to one mile east of I-65. That work is part of a $14.3 million project that also includes Fourth Avenue.

There also will be lane restrictions on Interstate 94 over Beam Street in Porter where the bridge is being rebuilt.

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