Spurred by concerns over pipelines and refineries that have closed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and pressured by the demands of holiday travelers, regular unleaded was selling for $2.99 per gallon at some Council Bluffs stations this morning, with prices jumping overnight by as much as 50 cents per gallon for some blends and premium topping $3 per gallon.
That is well above the national average of $2.62 per gallon for regular unleaded as reported by AAA and above the Iowa average of $2.58. The Nebraska average was $2.67 for a gallon of regular unleaded, but many Omaha stations topped that mark by more than a dime.
All of the marks set new records, and the White House responded by approving the release of fuel from the nation's oil reserves.
Gail Weinholzer, a spokeswoman for AAA of Minnesota and Iowa, said it now appears that hurricane-damaged pipelines and refineries along the Gulf Coast will not return to normal production until after Labor Day. Those refineries and pipelines produce one-third of the nation's fuel.
"I'd keep an eye on what crude is selling for," Weinholzer said. If it stays around $70 per barrel, prices will level off where they are.
"If that goes up, the prices will go up," she said. "We are not going to see any substantive decline any time in the next two weeks."
Prices may jump 20 cents per gallon within a few hours as stations try to figure how much to charge for their current stock in order to have the money they'll need to replace what's in their tanks, she said.
No wonder Nick Kurt, owner of the Endless Trail bicycle shop, ays foot and phone traffic at his shop on South Main has been building this year as gasoline prices continually climb to new record highs.
"It's been a pretty good year," he said. "When you think about it, if you're going a short distance, there's no reason you can't do it by bicycle."
Kurt, who generally travels by bike these days, said he filled up his PT Cruiser on July 16 and didn't fill it again until Tuesday. Since it had been sitting on empty, Kurt said he wished he had done it a couple of weeks earlier and maybe saved a few bucks.
"Comfort bikes," similar to mountain bikes but built for the streets, have been a popular model, Kurt said. They range in price from $250 to $500 depending on the features.
Baskets to help people haul small items have seen a boost in sales, he said.
Kurt said he knows of some people who commute to Omaha via bike and others who travel from the east end of Council Bluffs to the west side and car pool from there.
Nick Chanley, 19, of Council Bluffs said he doesn't have a driver's license yet, and isn't too worried about getting one.
"I don't like the gas prices. They're too high," Chanley said. He's happy to ride his DXR Mongoose in the winter. All it takes is a little extra clothing, but a lot less cash.
And, as his friend, 16-year-old Karis Barlow said, riding your bike is good exercise.
While there is little hard data, Kay Palan, an associate professor of marketing at Iowa State University, said she is hearing more people talk about limiting extra trips to conserve on gas.
"I would look for decreased spending on discretionary items," Palan said. "Things like entertainment."
People have to have gas, she said.