EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — When Rich Thompson drives his Ford Windstar minivan up to the pump at the Sunoco Gas Station on the Black Horse Pike, he is startled to see that a gallon of regular gas is already selling for $2.41.

Thompson, who lives in the township, was paying $1.99 on average Oct. 1.

“In the wintertime, springtime, it is usually $2, $1.98, $1.99, around that price. I’m surprised to see that it spiked up a little bit. These are usually summer prices,” said Thompson, 31.

People have had to dig deeper into their wallets and purses to buy gasoline since the fall.

An increase in the state gas tax took effect overnight Nov. 1, adding 23 cents per gallon. The increase bolstered the Transportation Trust Fund, which is designated to fund bridge, road and transportation projects in the state.

Since then, gasoline prices have been increasing because the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, commonly known as OPEC, reached a deal Nov. 30 among all 14 members to curtail oil production for the first time since 2008.

“OPEC has a huge effect on crude-oil prices,” said Sue Madden, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Seventy percent of gasoline is made from crude oil.”

Gas prices also are expected to rise a few cents next month, Madden said.

As for this year, “Hopefully, they will stay below the $3 per gallon level,” Madden said.

Gas prices often rise in the spring when refineries switch to cleaner-burning summer fuel blends. That switch costs refiners several cents more per gallon than winter-blend gas, according the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Summer-blend gasoline is designed to evaporate at higher temperatures — at a time of the year when it’s warmer outside — to cut emissions that can increase smog and unhealthy ozone levels, according to AAA.

“By mid-February, gas stations are mandated to switch over to summer-blended gasoline. It has an additive that helps with slower evaporation in warmer weather. Refineries may see a shutdown to do the switchover. They may be offline for a day or two,” Madden said.

Ryan Lee, 28, of Mays Landing, said rising gas prices are noticeable right away because more frequent gas station visits are needed to purchase the same amount of gas.

When gas prices are high, Lee tries to be smarter about commuting to work, by carpooling and using public transportation. He is a poker dealer in Atlantic City.

Atlantic and Cape May counties never saw gasoline average $4 a gallon, although the region came close June 17, 2008, when prices averaged $3.997, according to AAA.

The statewide average in June 2014 was $3.53, also according to AAA.

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Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

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