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Kevin Castle • Jul 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM

AAA estimates more than 40 million people will travel the nation's highways between now and July 8. Luckily for motorists in the Tri-Cities, lower gas prices could help the travel budget.

Despite rising gas prices over the past three months - including all-time highs in the region for unleaded - AAA says the 41.1 million motorists will be an all-time high if holiday predictions come true.

According to AAA East Tennessee's Price Finder, Johnson City currently has the lowest average price at the gas pump, with regular unleaded posted at $2.69 a gallon.

Pumps in Bristol have the next lowest prices at $2.74 per gallon, followed by Kingsport with drivers paying $2.78 a gallon.

Model City drivers were paying $40 to fill up their tank at this time last year based on an average 15-gallon automobile tank. Currently, the fill-up price is $42.88 - three dollars less than one month ago.

"While it is still early in the driving season, June demand has now moved close to the all-time record for any month," Paul Horsnell, an analyst at Barclays Capital told the Associated Press on Friday.

However, in its weekly inventory report on Wednesday, the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said gasoline inventories dropped 700,000 barrels in the week ended June 22.

Analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires had expected a 1.1 million barrel gain, AP reported.

The EIA report also showed that crude oil supplies rose 1.6 million barrels to 350.9 million barrels last week, above the average estimate of a 1 million barrel increase. Refinery utilization rebounded 1.8 percentage points to 89.4 percent, higher than estimates of a gain of 0.8 percentage points.

Crude inventories are at nine-year highs, but that oil is going to be in demand by refineries looking to turn it into gasoline and heating oil, said Addison Armstrong, an analyst at TFS Energy in Stamford, Conn.

"Even though we've got a lot of crude, we're going to need it," Armstrong told the AP.

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