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Article updated: 7/2/2013 5:12 PM

Gas prices dropping in the suburbs, region

By Marni Pyke

If you're high-tailing it out of the Chicago area this July Fourth, you can't lose as far as fuel costs go.

For one, prices are dropping compared to a month ago, so it's less painful to put gas in the tank. Secondly, lower-priced fuel is just a state away -- whether it be in Indiana, Wisconsin or Iowa.

A gallon of regular averages $3.92 in the Chicago region, according to AAA, representing a healthy decline from $4.24 in mid-May or $4.12 a month ago.

"It's coming down significantly since some of the higher prices we saw in May and June," said Michael Leahy, an economist with the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Gas in the metropolitan region shot up this spring related to market jitters over flooding and production slowdowns at refineries in Whiting, Ind., and Joliet.

Currently, "the refineries are back on line and we're back to the status quo, if there is such a thing," AAA spokeswoman Beth Mosher explained.

The national average for a gallon of regular is $3.49. In the Milwaukee area, it's $3.58 a gallon. Gary, Ind., is showing $3.46 a gallon -- the same price at Benton Harbor, Mich., according to AAA.

Premium gasoline costs more, and the gap between premium and regular is growing. The difference between a gallon of premium at $4.36 and regular at $3.92 was 44 cents, compared to 25 cents a year ago in the Chicago area. AAA's Mosher noted that in 2001, the gap between regular and premium was 20 cents.

Partly, that's due to a drop in the popularity of premium fuel starting in the 1990s, she said, noting that consumption of premium represents just 8.3 of all gas sales, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

"It's more expensive to produce and many gas stations view that premium grade is not worth it to have on hand since so little is used," Mosher said.

However, the Energy Information Administration notes that although the spread has grown when it comes to cents, in terms of percentage points the difference has been stable -- from 6 to 10 percent.

Meanwhile, while natives may be streaming out of the area, tourists are streaming in. Chicago ranked 10th on Travelocity's top 10 July Fourth destinations, pushing out Las Vegas, which is experiencing record heat.

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