Don’t look now, but Wisconsin gas prices, particularly in the southeastern part of the state, may be on the rise – as much as 40 cents per gallon - as the Memorial Day weekend approaches.
This time it has nothing to do with factors like volatility in the Middle East. The source of the problem is much closer, across the border in Illinois.
“Midwest gas prices are likely headed up in the coming days due to problems at a refinery in Joliet, Illinois,” said Pam Moen, spokeswoman for AAA Wisconsin. “Wholesale gasoline prices in the Chicago market have risen about 40 cents since Friday. We will likely see those increases reflected in retail prices in the coming days.”
Now for the good news. The refinery issue should be resolved within a few days.
“The increase has nothing to do with Memorial Day, but is just bad timing and the latest in a series of issues we've seen with Chicago-area refineries and supply distribution so far this spring,” added Moen.
According GasBuddy.com, the average price of regular unleaded gas in the metropolitan Milwaukee area late Thursday was $3. 87 per gallon and headed up.
Despite the gas prices, look for lots of holiday travelers to make their way across the state this weekend.
AAA is expecting more than 695,000 people to travel in Wisconsin over the holiday, virtually the same number that hit the roads last year. Of those, 630,000 people plan to travel by car, while 43,000 will travel by air. About half of the travelers will be Wisconsin residents.
Wisconsin’s Memorial Day traveler count will be on par with the Fourth of July (753,000) and Labor Day (734,000) last year.
“We expect a lot of people coming up from Chicago, the Twin Cities and our own residents will get out and about,” said Lisa Marshall, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. “Many of those people are going to be heading as far north as they can get up to the north woods of Wisconsin, where we have cabins, lakes, and fishing. The Wisconsin Dells is another great family water park destination. The largest water park in the nation, Noah’s Ark, will be opening.”
Rising gas prices? So what?
“Gas prices may be high but it’s only a tank of gas for them to get to these places,” said Marshall. “Frankly, we’re in a pretty good position. Gas prices have been fluctuating, spiking up every Memorial Day weekend for a number of years and it really hasn’t impacted (these travel plans). People still choose to come to Wisconsin. We’re a good value, we’re not too far from some really large cities and we’ve got some great destinations.”
With all of those people expected to hit the Wisconsin highways, the State Patrol is also gearing up for a very busy weekend.
“This is the first holiday weekend of the summer and people usually want to get out,” said Capt. Varla Bishop of the Wisconsin State Patrol. “There’s a lot of construction going on and my word of caution is you’ve got to go through those areas slowly, especially if you’re not familiar with the area. There’s construction barrels, alternate routes, reduced speeds so you need to be paying attention to what’s going on.”
Bishop cited the extensive construction project along Highway 94 in Waukesha County, from Highway 16 to Milwaukee County in both directions, as a prime area of concern. Drivers can expect reduced lanes and slower speeds, a potentially dangerous combination.
“Drunk drivers also threaten all of our safety,” said Bishop. “They can get confused and not know which way they’re going. We’ve had them go the wrong way on the expressway or on the wrong side of the orange barrels. They’re a very dangerous hazard for all of us.”
Road construction and gas prices aside, Wisconsin residents can’t wait for the summer season to begin.
“We consider Memorial Day weekend a kickoff for summer, on par with July Fourth, which has warmer weather and schools are out,” said Marshall. “The Dells will be busier once the kids get out of school. August is probably our peak month but, without a doubt, Memorial Day is a very big weekend for us.”
For more information about Wisconsin’s travel destinations for the holiday, visit www.travelwisconsin.com. The site also offers state tourism apps for both iPhone and Android mobile devices.