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Melissa Slager | streetsmarts@heraldnet.com
Published: Monday, March 5, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Crude facts on why gas prices are spiking

Gas prices are likely to continue to soar before they level off or dip back down, according to one local analyst.

Rises in crude oil prices have yet to make their way all the way through the gasoline markets, said Dave Overstreet, public affairs director for AAA Washington in Bellevue.

Prices are rising due to a combination of factors, Overstreet said. These include anxiety over the possibility Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz, a primary oil shipping lane, in response to global trade embargoes and fear over an attack from Israel.

Also, while demand for gasoline is down in the United States, Europe and Japan, it's up in most of the rest of the world, especially China and India, he said.

Oil speculation is alive and well, Overstreet said.

"It's a commodity that is traded on a worldwide basis," he said. "Oil is being viewed very positively as an investment."

Locally, last month's fire at BP's Cherry Point refinery near Blaine will keep the plant shut down until April. The plant supplies 20 percent of the fuel in the state, Overstreet said.

Prices are varying more than $1 a gallon between the cheapest and most expensive states, according to GasBuddy.com, which tracks fuel prices. As of Friday, prices averaged about $3.15 per gallon for regular gas in Wyoming and $4.33 in California, according to the website. The Seattle area averaged $4.02.

The Midwest states tend to have less expensive gasoline because that region has greater access to domestic oil, according to Overstreet.

In the Seattle area, he said prices could hit $4.50 per gallon, or higher, in April or May before leveling off.

Dale Morgan of Lake Stevens writes: The state recently completed the widening of Highway 9 from Lundeen Parkway to Highway 92. Part of this project included a new dedicated lane for trucks to use going southbound through the intersection of Soper Hill and Highway 9 after existing the scales just north of the intersection. Because of this lane they eliminated the "free" right turn from Soper Hill to southbound Highway 9.

The state did come back and install a right-turn green arrow for when the northbound Highway 9 traffic is turning left onto Soper Hill. My question is, why couldn't they have installed a sign which would read "No right turn when flashing," or something like that, for when the truck scales are open?

I moved to this area in 2005 and since that time I have only seen the truck scales open about once a year. I know they say they are going to modernize and upgrade the truck scales, but why should traffic have to sit there through the cycle when the scales are closed? In this economy I honestly don't see them doing anything with the scale in the forseeable future. Let us have our free right turn back.

Bronlea Mishler, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, responds: We installed the green right-turn arrow for the safety of drivers, truckers and pedestrians using the intersection. Because the sight distance and setup of the intersection changed, we posted the no-turn-on-red sign.

Prior to construction, the intersection never had a true "free" right turn. A "free" right turn is one where drivers can turn without having to stop or yield to other traffic – like on a freeway off-ramp. This intersection had a typical "right-turn-on-red" setup, where drivers could come to a complete stop at a red light, check for traffic, then turn right onto Highway 9.

The intersection setup before construction was also a bit different. Southbound Highway 9 had a left-turn lane, a through lane and a right-turn lane. The right-turn lane was also used as an acceleration lane for trucks leaving the weigh station and continued a short distance on the south side of the intersection.

On Soper Hill Road, the stop bar for eastbound drivers, was also fairly close to the intersection, giving them a good view of traffic on Highway 9.

After construction, the truck scale and truck acceleration lane moved west and are now separated from Highway 9 by barrier and curbing. In addition, southbound Highway 9 now includes a second southbound through lane and separate right-turn-only lane, along with a left turn lane. Those changes moved the stop bar for eastbound drivers on Soper Hill Road back away from the intersection – potentially limiting their sight distance on Highway 9.

Even though the truck scale isn't open often, drivers who pull forward to make a right turn on red can block the truck acceleration lane and the crosswalk at the intersection. For those reasons, we posted the no right turn on red sign and added the green right-turn arrow.

E-mail us at stsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your city of residence.

Look for updates on our Street Smarts blog at www.heraldnet.com/streetsmarts.

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