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As the economy reopens and motorists return to the road, Chattanooga gas prices rose last week by the most of any week so far in 2020.

The average price of regular gas rose by 9.5 cents per gallon last week to $1.76 per gallon, according to GasBuddy's daily survey of 170 stations. Gas prices in Chattanooga are 20.1 cents per gallon higher than a month ago, although local fuel prices remain 48.1 cents per gallon lower than a year ago.

"It's no surprise that gasoline prices have increased for the sixth straight week as gasoline demand has hit its highest level since early March as Americans are returning to the roads," said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy. "With OPEC extending its large oil production cuts until at least July, oil prices continue to rally."

Chattanooga gas prices on Monday were 26 cents a gallon below the U.S. average, which edged up to $2.02 a gallon, according to GasBuddy.com.

The price of regular gas had averaged below $2 a gallon for the past nine weeks prior to this week. Despite the higher fuel prices this week, gasoline prices began the traditionally busy summer travel season at their lowest level in 16 years, according to a separate study of gas prices by the American Automobile Association (AAA).

"The beginning of June has not seen gas prices this low since 2004," said Megan Cooper, spokesperson, AAA - The Auto Club Group. "As crude oil prices trend higher and gasoline demand increases, Americans will see gas prices push more expensive, but this summer will be cheaper than last."

AAA said 28% of Tennessee gas stations have prices below $1.75 a gallon for regular fuel on Monday.

In the Chattanooga area, gas on Monday was priced the cheapest at the Sam's Club on Lee Highway and the Costco club in Ringgold, Georgia, both of which were selling gas Monday at $1.59 a gallon.

Despite the lower price and reopening of the economy, oil demand remains 20-25% below a year ago, De Haan said.

"I believe the anxiety pushing oil prices up is coming from the fact that the economy may be recovering quicker than most anticipated," he said. "For now, motorists will likely continue to see gas prices rising for the weeks ahead."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

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