It’s starting to feel a lot like summer.

Of 2008, that is.

That was when gas prices last jumped north of $4 per gallon. Prices spiked at around $4.18 per gallon in July, and the impact was seen everywhere, from a drop in traveling and tourism to a rise in the cost of food.

The precipitous rise – the price of a gallon that year had been at a much more manageable $3 as late as February – was a true shock. People began to wonder how much longer they could afford their commute. Rarely did a conversation go by that did not mention the heavy burden of the price of gas.

It was a grim time, but out of it came a real momentum to explore alternatives to fossil fuels, and to examine the habits and policies that fill highways as fast as they can be built. It felt for a moment as if the subject had reached a critical mass. The public had been given a glimpse into an unsustainable future, and could now do the hard work of righting the course.

Then, almost as quickly as the gas price peak came, it went, and along with it the desire to do much of anything about a problem that never went anywhere. Sure, there were still advocates for increasing bus service and bringing back rail travel. But the kind of sustained public anger and attention necessary to hold officials accountable is now reserved for cutting government spending, including, ironically, the kinds of transportation projects that could help avert the next oil-related economic crisis.

Meanwhile, the price of gas is again on the creep. The average price per gallon in Maine jumped 16 cents during the past week and as of this writing rests at $3.38. That is almost 68 cents a gallon higher than a year ago. The national average has increased more than 25 cents per gallon in the last month, and is up 65 cents per gallon over last year at this time.

Now, many experts are predicting a return of $4 per gallon gasoline this summer. If that happens, businesses would once again feel the pinch. People would once again wonder just how they are going to fill up their cars in order to get from here to there.

And conversations would once again be dominated by the price of gas – until, of course, the price dropped and we went back to happily paying $3 per gallon and waiting for the next spike. Unless, that is, we take the only course that is prudent in the long term and begin investing heavily and steadily in our future transportation system. President Obama’s budget includes $556 billion for restructuring transportation over a six-year period. For those worried about government spending, consider that the portions set aside for rail pale in comparison to what we spend to maintain our roads and highways each year.

Locally, residents can push for improved public transportation service, and for incentives to get people on board. They can also support to create of transportation hubs near population and business centers.

We know what the price of gas does to the economy at $4 per gallon. Imagine it at $5 gallon, and begin preparing for that likelihood now.

In the meantime, readers can find the lowest available gas prices throughout the region at our website, www.keepmecurrent.com.

Ben Bragdon is the managing editor of Current Publishing. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/benbragdon.


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