- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Soaring gasoline prices mean some good news. The nation's highways won't be as crowded this summer as in the past several years.

Vacationers are changing their travel plans and trying to keep driving to a minimum as pump prices approach $2 a gallon for regular, self-serve unleaded.

"I feel terrible," said George Stockton Sr., while pumping gas at D&S; General Store in Mitchellville. "It's outrageous. That's why I am here at the closest, cheapest gas station to my house."

Gas at the station ranged from $1.69 to $1.80 per gallon.

Every summer, the 82-year-old Bowie resident vacations on his boat, which he keeps moored in Solomons Island, Md. This year, he plans to take his son and daughter-in-law sailing, but they won't be going to the District their typical final destination.

"We're going over to Crisfield [Md.]," Mr. Stockton said. "But no longer trips, mainly because of gas prices."

"[My boat] takes a lot of gas."

He is not alone in curbing travel plans to avoid high pump prices.

Forty-seven percent of people surveyed by the Associated Press recently said they plan to vacation by car this summer, compared with 55 percent last summer.

One-third of those surveyed said they are shifting from driving to flying; some canceled their plans altogether.

A gallon of regular, self-serve unleaded averaged $1.71 in the Washington area over the Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer up 14 cents per gallon from last Memorial Day and 61 cents higher than in 1999.

The average price of gas has risen more than 20 cents in just six weeks, and some energy analysts predict it could reach $2 this summer possibly $3 in California and parts of the Midwest.

Nevertheless, 34 million Americans hit the road over the weekend. Highways in the Washington region were jammed with travelers leaving town Friday night and coming back yesterday.

Three girlfriends with four children were among the thousands of people taking their first beach vacation this summer. The group left their home in New Jersey for a three-day vacation in Virginia Beach Friday.

"The prices didn't really hurt us," Lisette Matos said. "Not really, because we split it into three."

She and Mirna Ortiz agreed that they would not change any planned trips this summer because of the prices.

"But maybe if it was just one person, I would think about it," Miss Ortiz said.

Two other girlfriends, New Yorkers Andrea Gordon and Shelly Chen, drove in a van for seven hours in the rain Saturday to visit friends in Maryland.

They were ready to head back home yesterday, but first they stopped at an Exxon station in Mitchellville to fill up the van's tank.

"The gas prices are manageable," said Miss Gordon, adding that prices in New York are higher than in the Washington region.

"We have to [travel] regardless," Miss Chen added.

Neither said she foresees canceling planned summer trips.

But another former New Yorker, Frederick McLeod, who now lives in Upper Marlboro, said the increased cost will definitely keep him from traveling as much as normal.

"Usually, I go to New York and North Carolina in summer," he said. "But I am not going to go down this frequently now, I guess."

Typically, he takes three trips to each destination to see family and friends. But this year, he will "maybe go once."

"At one point, $10 filled up this thing," he said pointing to his silver Nissan Altima at an XtraMart station in his neighborhood. "Now it's $20."

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