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Summer gas prices likely to average $2.62 a gallon

WASHINGTON -- At a corner Chevron station downtown, the price of regular grade gasoline is up to $2.95 a gallon -- and you might say its a bargain.

Across the street at an ExxonMobil station the sign reads $3.09 without a customer in sight. In the shadows of the Watergate complex, the two stations waged their own high-level price war yesterday.

With a 14-cent difference, Chevron was getting most of the business, although customers were grumbling, too.

''Look, it's $41 to fill it up," said Lorenzo Rivera, 26, a restaurant manager, pumping Chevron's mid-grade at $3.05.

Ervin Goodall, 56, a professional driver, showed up to end the customer drought at ExxonMobil and pumped supreme grade into his large sedan, at $3.29 a gallon.

''It's lot higher than last year, a bigger hit," said Goodall. He added that when it comes to personal driving he's scaling back -- no more Saturday day trips.

In its summer gasoline price outlook released yesterday, the Energy Department said the average price motorists will pay nationwide this driving season will be $2.62 a gallon for regular grade, 25 cents higher than last summer for the April-September period.

Guy Caruso, head of the Energy Department's statistical agency, said prices at the pump, which averaged $2.68 a gallon last week nationwide, are likely to increase 10 to 15 cents a gallon in the coming weeks, peak in May, and drop off in late summer.

Crude oil climbed above $69 a barrel yesterday to the highest level this year before easing back somewhat.

But Caruso said motorists are not expected to cut back on their summer driving -- a view mirrored by AAA, formerly the American Automobile Association, which also predicts a busy summer travel season.

In fact, Americans are expected to use 1.5 percent more gas than last summer.

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