Midwesterners gassed up their vehicles and hit the road for the holiday weekend, as high gas prices — which led two states to suspend their gas sales tax and prompted a federal investigation into possible price gouging — continued to fall.
"It's the Fourth of July weekend. What are you going to do — stay home? Plans are all on," said Tom Woody of Madison, Wisc., as he filled up his tank en route to a paddling trip in southern Wisconsin.
Illinois pump prices took a big dip Saturday — with Chicago prices falling below $2 a gallon for the first time since Memorial Day — as station owners began passing along savings created by lifting the state's 5 percent sales tax on gasoline.
Prices in one north-side Chicago neighborhood fell to $1.99 per gallon Saturday, down 10 cents to 16 cents per gallon since Thursday. Prices were even lower in the suburbs and downstate, where the price of regular unleaded dropped 10 cents to $1.85 per gallon at a Citgo station in Wheaton and fell 11 cents, to $1.66 per gallon, at the Meijer gas station in Champaign.
Illinois legislators voted overwhelmingly last week to suspend the sales tax for six months to appease voters angry over the rapid rise in pump prices. Gov. George Ryan admonished station owners to pass the savings on to customers. Indiana's governor also suspended his state's gas tax for 60 days.
"I think there was overwhelming support between major oil companies and independent marketers to pass this break on to the consumer," said Paul Torstrick, a member of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association board of directors and vice president of Gas City.
AAA Chicago Motor Club spokeswoman Norma Cooper said Saturday that, even without the sales tax rollback, the number of Illinois residents traveling more than 100 miles over the July Fourth holiday was expected to be up slightly over last year.
"People have probably already made plans and I don't think 8 cents difference would make a difference one way or another; we expected near record travel anyway," she said.
Wisconsin authorities said traffic volumes appeared normal for the July Fourth weekend.
Resorts and campgrounds throughout Michigan reported brisk business Saturday — with scarce evidence that high gas prices discouraged any would-be travelers.
At the Wandering Wheels Campground in Munising in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, three reservations were scrapped by travelers who said they couldn't afford gas prices. But the vacancies at the campground near Lake Superior were quickly filled by other travelers, owner Dennis Bragg said.
At the Oak Cove Resort in the southwest Michigan community of Lawrence, owner Bob Wojcik has had no cancellations. His bookings records show guests from Florida, Chicago, New York and California.
"I never worried about gas prices a bit," said Wojcik, whose resort's 13 cottages and seven-room lodge were booked well in advance of the holiday. "All of the people here this week are just having a great time."