NEW YORK - Soaring fuel costs are taking some of the celebration out of this holiday weekend.
Oil prices headed into the busy July 4th break by racing past $145 a barrel for the first time Thursday. The story was no different at the gas pump, where the national average soared to within a whisker of $4.10 a gallon.
For a nation accustomed to hopping in the car or jetting cross-country on what is typically one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, the numbers are sobering:
•Last Independence Day weekend, drivers were paying just $2.95 a gallon for gas, about $1.15 less than today.
•Oil prices are up more than 50 percent since the start of the year. Prices rose by a similar amount in 2007 -- but it took almost the entire year for them to make that trip.
•This week alone, the price of a barrel of oil jumped 3.6 percent. And that in a short week.
Light, sweet crude for August delivery settled at a record $145.29 Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up $1.72 from the previous day. Earlier in the session, the contract rose to $145.85 a barrel, also a new high.
Oil has set trading or closing records in each of the past six trading sessions.
"Prices that you once would've associated with the lunatic fringe are now mainstream," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.
Drivers in about three-quarters of U.S. states are now paying more than $4 for a gallon of gasoline. Nationwide, the average retail price for regular gasoline jumped six-tenths of a penny to $4.098 a gallon, according to AAA, the Oil Prices Information Service and Wright Express.
The latest surge in oil prices was propelled by a midweek report of lower crude stockpiles in the United States, lingering concerns about conflict with Iran and comments by Saudi Arabia's oil minister suggesting his country would not boost production.
Prices might have gone even higher Thursday were it not for a sharp gain by the dollar against the euro. A slumping dollar has been a key driver pushing oil prices up by half this year. Many investors buy commodities such as oil as a hedge against inflation when the greenback weakens.