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Illinois gas prices dip below $2.50 a gallon

Illinois gas prices dipped below the $2.50-a-gallon mark Friday as state officials predicted a 2.2 percent uptick in Christmas and New Year’s holiday traffic on the Illinois Tollway system.

AAA put the average price of a gallon of regular gas Friday at $2.467 in Illinois, $2.591 in the six-county Chicago area, and $2.878 in Chicago.

With a little hunting, sporadic prices below $2.50 could be found in Chicago and the suburbs, according to GasBuddy.com. It listed Chicago’s lowest gas price Friday as the $2.43 reported at Marathon Gas at 103rd and Kedzie.

The average cost of a gallon of regular gas Friday was nearly 65 cents less than a year ago in Chicago, and 75 cents less in the six-county area, according to AAA data. The Chicago average was at its lowest level in more than five years, said AAA spokeswoman Beth Mosher.

Nationally, gas prices have headed downward for 85 consecutive days, putting more disposable income in American pockets, Mosher said.

“Given the holiday travel season and the holiday in general, this comes at an exceptional time,” Mosher said.

AAA predicted a record 98.6 million Americans would travel at least 50 miles over the unusually long holiday travel season — from Tuesday, Dec. 23, to Sunday, Jan. 4 — with 91 percent of them traveling by car.

In Illinois, officials estimated 17.6 million vehicles would travel the Illinois Tollway system over a one-day longer period that included Monday Dec. 22. That’s up 2.2 percent from the same number of days over last year’s Christmas-New Year’s holiday season, said Tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams.

The Tollway predicted its biggest travel day would be Tuesday, Dec. 23.

Illinois State Police planned to be out in “full force” with special traffic details over the holiday period, focusing on speeding, drunk driving, seatbelt violations and distracted driving, Tollway officials said.

Most Illinois Tollway temporary lane closures due to construction or maintenance will be suspended from noon Wednesday, Dec. 24 until 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 26, and from noon Wed., Dec. 31, until 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 2.

However, work zones will continue in two areas of the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90): between the Kennedy Expressway and the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), where westbound traffic will be reduced from three to two lanes; and also between I-294 and Illinois Route 25, where traffic will be shifted at various points.

Tollway officials reminded motorists that work zone speed limits are in effect 24/7 in construction zones where lanes are reduced or traffic is shifted, even if workers are not present. Speeding in a work zone carries a minimum $375 fine.

For Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve travelers, some oasis vendors on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90), the Tri-State (I-94/I-294/I-80) and the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) were offering a free small cup of coffee between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.