The Herald of Everett, Washington
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Melissa Slager | streetsmarts@heraldnet.com
Published: Monday, April 14, 2014, 1:00 a.m.

Does the price of gas matter anymore?

How soon we forget. In May 2008, the sharp rise of gas prices to more than $4 per gallon for the first time in U.S. history drove a spike through our driving habits.

We took fewer trips. We carpooled more. We rode buses. We walked. We bought smaller cars.

Prices fell. In October, the recession hit, and by December gas prices had plunged all the way down to less than $1.70 per gallon, according to GasBuddy.com.

Over the next two years, they sneaked upward, and in 2011 were back up to $4. Since then prices have settled into the $3.40-$3.90 range.

Yawn.

We don't seem to mind high gas prices nearly as much as we did a few years ago. That observation is backed up by a new survey by AAA.

Only half of U.S. adults — 53 percent — have changed driving habits or lifestyles in response to high gas prices, according to the survey. This is down 15 percent from just a year ago.

Gasoline demand increased more than 1 percent in 2013, the largest annual increase since 2006, according to figures cited by AAA. Americans drove 18 billion more miles in 2013 than the year before.

The auto club credits the fact that gasoline prices aren't as crazy-high as before. The national average price may not reach $3.65 per gallon this spring, according to AAA. This would be nearly 15 cents less than the high in 2013 and about 30 cents less than in 2012.

Prices have dropped because of increased production and supplies, according to AAA.

Still, the survey does not point out that prices never averaged more than $3 per gallon for a full year until 2008 and never more than $2 until 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The average of $3.53 in 2011 was the highest ever to that point, adjusted for inflation or not.

"People may be less likely to change their habits, but they do not seem any happier at the pumps," said Bob Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA. "Many drivers grudgingly realize that paying more than $3 per gallon for gasoline is the new normal, but they remain frustrated with the price."

Maybe not quite frustrated enough.

Steven Lay of Everett writes: Much has been written about the tricky merge where Highway 204 and 20th Street SE run into the westbound U.S. 2 trestle.

They don't need to tear down anything and start over. I have driven that route many times and thought how I would make it safer. My solution would be to extend the merge ramp from Highway 204 farther down the right side of U.S. 2. This would allow more time for those to adjust their speed and see the traffic coming down 20th. The ramp would extend farther than most ramps but I do not see a complete tear down as stated. I'm sure there is a bright young engineer who could design this ramp.

Kris Olsen, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, responds: Over the years, the state has looked at many options to improve the U.S. 2 interchange with Highway 204 and 20th Street SE for westbound drivers. One of the options we looked at was widening the existing structure at the interchange to improve merging conditions. Unfortunately, it was ruled out almost immediately. Most of the westbound trestle was built in 1967-68. To widen the existing structure and provide a longer merge lane for Highway 204 drivers, current design standards would require retrofitting the bridge superstructure and substructure to current seismic standards. Given the type of bridge design and the poor soil conditions where the trestle is located retrofitting the structure is cost-prohibitive. An expensive retrofit also doesn't address the need for additional westbound lanes to accommodate the growing traffic volumes.

Extending the Highway 204 merge lane by reconfiguring the lanes is also not an option because there simply isn't enough room. Trying to squeeze in a longer merge lane would push Highway 204 traffic too close to the concrete barrier on the right side of the trestle, increasing the possibility that drivers might strike it.

The only way to really address the merge issue is to rebuild the interchange so that traffic from both the Highway 204 and 20th Street SE ramps have the opportunity to accelerate in their own lanes, then merge together before joining U.S. 2. At this point, there's no funding for design or construction of a new interchange.

The transportation department has been working with local agencies to look at possible near-term solutions to help improve traffic flow. We are also finalizing a list of other potential improvements as part of a U.S. 2 route development plan. More information about the route development plan is available at http://tinyurl.com/948vzr4.

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

Story tags » Energy & ResourcesU.S. 2Highway 204

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