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Rising Gas Prices Have State Scrambling For Fuel Alternatives

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Gas prices hit a new record in the Triangle Monday.

The average price of regular unleaded is up to $1.64.

According to some experts, the price could hit the dreaded $2-a-gallon mark before it starts to come back down.

As the prices go up, people who own a couple of cars could worry about how it will impact the family budget.

But, what if someone had 8,500 cars to gas up?

"Oh, it'll put a strain on every agency's budget," Motor Fleet Director John Massey said.

Massey ought to know. As the man in charge of the state motor fleet, he is responsible for 8,500 cars.

"If the price comes back down and balances out, it won't be a big impact," Massey said. "But I've got a feeling that as long as the situation worldwide is like it is, it's not going to be coming down anytime soon."

In addition to the motor fleet, the Department of Transportation spends more than $1 million a month fueling heavy equipment.

Meanwhile, the Highway Patrol keeps its own fleet of 2,200 cars on the road.

Factor in the tight state budget, and if the price continues to increase, something else will have to decrease.

"Motor Fleet provides every agency in the state automobiles," Massey said. "So, naturally, it would mean cutting back on their mileage and cutting back on their consumption of fuel."

So what's the answer?

Officials say alternative-fuel vehicles, especially the ethanol burners.

"We've got more than any other agency or any other business in the entire state of North Carolina," Massey said. "We're leading the way."

For the 2004 model year, the state has more than 1,000 ethanol-burning vehicles on order. Ethanol comes from corn.

Getting more ethanol burners into the fleet gives the DOT a home-grown fuel source, instead of depending on foreign fuels.

The state motor fleet said it mixes 10-percent ethanol into all of its fuels.

Although Massey said the rising cost of gas could cut into state services, he also empathizes with people at home on a tight budget.

"It could take food out of somebody's mouth, really," he said, "paying more for gas and less for food."


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