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AAA numbers show that two years ago, prices hit a record high at $4.21 a gallon in the District, 2 cents more than the previous record, which was set in 2008.

A year ago, the average national price of a gallon of regular gasoline was about $3.89, according to the Energy Information Administration. The cost was $3.77 in the District and $3.66 in the metropolitan area.

When prices could fall again is anyone’s guess, AAA officials said, though some analysts think it could be as early as next month. Others are preparing for a worst-case scenario that could mean $5 per gallon come spring. Mr. Townsend said he didn’t see things getting that bad and was hopeful that a recent boost in crude-oil supply from the Middle East, as well as domestic oil production, could help bring down prices.

“The commodity is overheated. It has nothing to do with fundamentals and everything to do with speculation,” he said. “We saw a trace of it last year, but this is a more frightful example this year.”

Wiping down his car after getting it cleaned at a D.C. gas station, 50-year-old resident William Henderson said he considered the high prices “outrageous.”

“I have to decide whether to get a loaf of bread or gallon of gas,” he said. “I need both.”

He said it costs about $40 to fill up half of his sedan’s tank.

“When the needle gets to half, I go and fill it back up,” Mr. Henderson said. “But I have to get it when I can get it.”

On a busy weekend, D.C. cabbie Bryant Christopher said he might stop to fill his tank once or twice a day.

“I usually try to avoid the $4-per-gallon gas stations,” the 45-year-old said, standing next to his tan cab parked at a New York Avenue Exxon station in Northeast Washington, which advertised $3.86 for a gallon of regular gas and $4.01 for diesel.

“I have to drive all the time, so I see the prices fluctuate,” he said. “I know the economy is rough, but I’ve got to drive regardless of the gas prices. I’m patient and just have to hope it goes down.”