Well, at least motorists can't say they weren't warned.

As has long been predicted, gas prices in Western New York officially eclipsed the $4-per-gallon mark on Friday, hitting an all-time high, according to the American Automobile Association.

Overnight Thursday, the average price per gallon in the Buffalo-Niagara Region jumped another six cents, from $3.95 to $4.01.

“I just think it’s outrageous,” said Niagara Falls resident Debbie Holody. “We are paying through the nose and it’s just not fair.”

Nationally, the price of a gallon of regular gas rose 4.4 cents overnight to a record average of $3.875, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Prices are headed even higher in coming days because of oil’s dramatic rally this week to a new record over $135 a barrel.

“I think the whole economy is going to collapse,” said Falls resident Gloria Augustino. “It’s not sustainable. The price of gas makes everything else go up.

“I’m sure the high profits in the oil company are a huge contribution.”

Of course, the larger the vehicle, the greater the pain at the pump.

More and more independent truck drivers are starting to consider other lines of work in light of the rising cost of fuel, according to Linda Santarosa, a representative from CRS Truck and Trailer Service, Inc. on Allen Avenue in Niagara Falls.

Sanatarosa said her company's drivers are paying about $4.93 for a gallon of diesel, with no signs that the price will level off anytime soon.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Sanatarosa, whose company traces its trucking roots back to the 1950s.

CRS has managed to offset its added fuel costs by tacking on a fuel surcharge for deliveries. While it has helped her company and its drivers, Santarosa said it has contributed to a trickle-down effect that does not bode well for the average consumer as many companies receiving deliveries have passed along their added costs on the goods they receive.

"Our company hasn't seen a slow down," she said. "It's just unfortunate that we're seeing an increase in the marketplace for the cost of goods."

While popular opinion suggests the people selling the gas must be raking it in these days, Mike Newman, vice president of NOCO Energy Corp., said that hasn’t been the case for his company.

On Thursday, Newman said his company paid $4.10 per gallon for gasoline delivered to its Western New York stations. Newman said his company has been selling gas at a loss for nearly three weeks now, hoping for an end to the pricing madness. To keep pace, Newman said the company has been forced to while costs in other areas and rely on financial reserves set aside for system upgrades and other projects.

"It's a near disaster for us and we feel terribly for our customers," he said.

Newman said a combination of factors contribute to the situation, including the erosion of the U.S. dollar and an increase in demand from China, India and other countries where usage has climbed in recent years.

Another challenge, Newman said has been increased interest from investors which has latched on to oil as a moneymaker. Like the technology and real estate investment bubbles before it, Newman said, at some point, the new hot commodity will have its day.

"I have to believe that there will be some sort of correction in this commodity market," he said. "The when is the challenge."

In the meantime, Newman said local, state and federal governments should do their part to cut costs for motorists by alleviating some or all of the 75 cents in taxes paid per gallon.

While temporary gas tax holidays and gas tax caps have been proposed at various levels of government, so far, none have been enacted. Some lawmakers maintain any potential savings to be realized by consumers would be gobbled up by gas station operators.

Newman questioned their logic, noting higher gas prices mean more tax revenues. As a result, he said, New York’s various levels of government should be in better shape than ever to cut consumers a break.

"They are the ones making all the money," he said.

AAA expects the higher fuel costs to have an impact on consumer's Memorial Day travel habits this year, although does not anticipate the decline to be as substantial as might be expected. The travel association estimates that 31.7 million people will be on the move this weekend, 83 percent of which will travel by car. Spokesman Shaun Seufert said the figures represent a decline of about 1 percent in holiday travelers this year.

"In the Buffalo-Niagara area we are not seeing too much of a decrease in travel overall," he said.

Maany are staying closer to home. Among Western New Yorkers seeking Memorial Day travel information from AAA, Seufert said popular destinations include Upstate New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Washington, D.C. The company also recently unveiled its one-tank getaway options, offering planned trips to attractions in places like Rochester and Syracuse.

Seufert said it will cost a person who owns a vehicle with a 15-gallon tank about $59.62 to fill up this weekend, compared to $47.06 cents at the same time last year. The difference for one-tank travelers is $12.56, an amount that he said can be easily made up in other ways, like packing a cooler instead of dining out.

"There really is an opportunity to still travel and save money while you are doing it," he said. "We work way too hard not to take a vacation. People think it is something they have earned and they are still traveling."



Contact reporter Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250

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