Geoffrey McAllister, Deseret News
Morgan Hamatake of Salt Lake City pumps gasoline at a Salt Lake Chevron station Wednesday afternoon. Partly because of fuel prices, Hamatake plans on visiting her family in Tooele this weekend rather than driving to Denver.

Fewer Utahns will travel this Labor Day weekend than last year because of higher gas prices, according to a survey commissioned for AAA.

The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded Thursday in Utah was $3.94, the fourth highest in the United States, after Alaska's $4.53, Hawaii's $4.39 and Montana's $3.95. Nationally, the average gas cost was $3.66 a gallon.

On July 18, Utah's average gas prices hit record highs, with regular unleaded at $4.22 per gallon.

"They're starting to come down a little bit," said Rolayne Fairclough, spokeswoman of AAA Utah. "What happens is the summer gas formulation is more expensive than the winter formulation. That change takes place in October. Labor Day is the last of the big driving holidays in the summer. Then, driving decreases and demand drops."

Just over 343,000 Utahns are expected to travel 50 or more miles this weekend, a 1.4 percent decrease from last year. Of the 343,000, about 270,000 Utahns will drive, a 1.8 percent decrease from last year, according to the AAA survey, which was conducted by the Travel Industry Association of America.

The average Utah household will spend up to $826 during the Labor Day weekend, with as much as $177 spent on fuel, almost 20 percent of the total spending. Fairclough said this is the first year in which respondents were asked about how much they planned to spend on fuel, so year-to-year comparison data is not available.

About 56,000 Utahns will fly over the weekend, a 3.4 percent decrease from last year. About 17,000 Utahns will travel by other modes of transportation, such as buses or trains.

Nationwide, more than 34 million Americans will travel this weekend, with about 28 million in cars — a 1.1 percent decrease from last year. About 4 million people will fly, a 4.5 percent decrease from last year.

"I think the shock is kind of over, and people have probably made the accommodations in their budgets," Fairclough said. "I don't think anyone is not angry about it. They're just not as reactive right now."

At a Chevron station in downtown Salt Lake City, where motorists paid $3.95 for a gallon of gas Wednesday, Morgan Hamatake of Salt Lake City talked about how she enjoys road trips to Denver to visit friends. But this Labor Day, Hamatake will stay closer to home, visiting family in Tooele County, in part because of fuel prices.

"I don't have a good-paying job, so gas is crappy," Hamatake said.

John Avila of Salt Lake City plans to visit family and friends in St. George. A tank of gas in his full-size car costs $50, and he can drive down on a half tank. Avila moved from South Salt Lake to downtown Salt Lake City to be closer to work, and that helps him save money.

He said doesn't feel guilty for the trip to St. George. "It's Labor Day, come on," he said. "We've got to have some fun."

Mike Morris of Salt Lake City would love to get away but can't afford it. He's a single dad working during the days at his new landscaping business and at nights at a Chili's restaurant.

"I can't even afford to drive to Moab or St. George," he said.

Utah's high prices in comparison with the rest of the nation prompted Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to announce two weeks ago that he wanted to keep a "laserlike" focus on gas prices.

The Department of Agriculture and Food normally has three inspectors dedicated to keeping tabs on Utah's nearly 28,000 gas pumps. Yet, at Huntsman's prompting, the agency reassigned five other inspectors to the task — they'd normally be at grocery store delis or bakeries to verify weight scales.

The day after Huntsman's announcement, the state's commerce chief said she received multiple reports that gas prices had dropped 6 cents, hinting at the power of the governor's bully pulpit.

Since then, however, the state has received only a handful of price-gouging complaints that amount to "just grousing," said Francine Giani, director of the Utah Department of Commerce, who said she had little power to lower prices. She urged motorists to strike back.

"I tell my friends who complain, 'What kind of car are you driving?' They've got the big old Suburban," Giani said. "I sold my Suburban last year, and I take fewer trips to the grocery store. We need to change our habits, and stay the change."

Dale Kunze, a weights and measures inspector for the state, laughed when he was asked what weights and measures inspectors can do to curb high gas prices. All they can do is make certain that whatever high price stations charge, they dispense the correct amount of gas, he said.

Pump accuracy is no worse now, inspectors say, than during times of lower prices. The team of inspectors say pumps work to motorists' favor 97 percent of the time.


Contributing: Paul Foy, Associated Press

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