RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Gas prices in Columbus, Ohio, are among the lowest in the country. Drivers love the savings, but those working to stop urban sprawl say cheap gas is hurting their efforts. From member station WOSU, Mandie Trimble reports.
MANDIE TRIMBLE, BYLINE: At $1.22 a gallon, a gas station on Columbus' southwest side is drawing customers from all parts of the city. Stan Cartwright drove there from across town.
STAN CARTWRIGHT: I came here for the gas price. I live on the east side and so, you know, I had to make a little bit of a commute, but it was worth it.
TRIMBLE: The bargains aren't just in Columbus. Drivers all around the state are saving money. Gasbuddy.com petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan.
PATRICK DEHAAN: Prices in Ohio tend to be very, very competitive.
TRIMBLE: DeHaan says demand is weak because, well, it's winter - think snowstorms. And Canada, just on the other side of Lake Erie, has dirt cheap crude oil.
DEHAAN: The region's refineries have been doing a very good job at processing. Some of the Canadian varieties of crude oil that are being processed cost today as little as $11 to $12 a barrel, and that is incentivizing them to process as much as possible, thereby increasing gasoline supply, which is, yes, weighing on prices.
TRIMBLE: So what are the upsides for Columbus? For one thing, consumers have more to spend, like Scott Stewart who was also buying gas the other day. He hopes to use his savings to spread more money around at other businesses.
SCOTT STEWART: Going out to dinner with my family, I'll - even if it's just ordering pizza or if we're going to the movies, I'll spend it.
TRIMBLE: And it's not just consumers who are saving. Bill LaFayette, owner of Regionomics, a Columbus economic analysis firm, says the cheap gas has lowered costs for grocery stores, distributors and warehouse companies.
BILL LAFAYETTE: That means that your profits go up and you might be able to pass those savings along to your customers and attract more of them.
TRIMBLE: But not everyone here is thrilled to see cheap gas.
CLEVE RICKSECKER: Low gas prices are a double-edged sword, aren't they?
TRIMBLE: Cleve Ricksecker directs two downtown Columbus Special Improvements Districts.
RICKSECKER: People love saving money, but low energy prices, low gas prices are a nightmare for cities.
TRIMBLE: Columbus has made great strides in recent years in attracting more residents and businesses downtown. Now Ricksecker fears a reversal.
RICKSECKER: With the fall of gas prices, in a place like Columbus and most Midwestern cities, it really is going to encourage more sprawl.
TRIMBLE: Sprawl can mean more traffic jams and air pollution, but he says only a spike in the price of gas would change the equation when people are making decisions about where to live and work.
RICKSECKER: It needs to be a lot higher than it is right now to influence decisions people make.
TRIMBLE: And at least for now, expensive gas seems a long way off. For NPR News, I'm Mandie Trimble in Columbus.
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