Just in time for the holidays, the average gasoline price jumped another 7.7 cents in the past week on Long Island - to the highest average price since October 2008 and one of the highest nationally.

The surge, which experts attribute to a recent rise in crude oil prices and less East Coast refinery capacity, comes as holiday shopping shifts into high gear. The same shopping trip in the same car will cost 15 percent more this week than at this time last year when gasoline averaged about $2.85 a gallon.

And motorists are not happy. Paul Castagnetta, 56, of East Northport, said he won't be able to spend as much on presents this year because of gas prices. "People aren't going to get as much as they did last year," he said, refueling at a Lukoil station in his hometown Tuesday. "I'm just going to have to trim i

Stephanie Lambert, of East Northport, said prices probably will prevent her from visiting her sister in Pennsylvania this holiday season. Instead, she said, she'll "probably stay home and celebrate."

Beth Goldin, of Huntington, estimates she spends between $100 and $140 per week on fueling her car and said she fills her tank almost daily for her job as a pet sitter. "When gas went over $4 a gallon, I had to put a surcharge on, a dollar a visit," she said. "It's getting closer to $4 again, which is really, really scary."

The latest California-based Lundberg Survey based on a nationwide survey of 2,500 gas stations said Nassau-Suffolk had the highest average price in the 48 continental states on Sunday: $3.21 a gallon for regular.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

But a nationwide survey published Tuesday by the AAA of credit card transactions at about 100,000 stations said Long Island's average of $3.271 was not as high as those for New York City, Hartford, Conn., San Francisco and several other metro areas. Long Island's average usually is relatively high because of taxes, real estate costs and other factors.

Among the nation's metro areas, the AAA said the highest average was in Wailuku, Hawaii, where drivers were paying $3.945 per gallon Tuesday.Fairbanks, Alaska's was $3.555. The highest per-gallon average in the continental U.S. is San Francisco at $3.301 per gallon, followed by New York City at $3.278, Bridgeport, Conn., at $3.272 and Nassau-Suffolk. The lowest average per-gallon price in the country was in Cheyenne, Wyo.: $2.538.

Prices have been rising locally since their recent low of $2.829 a gallon on Sept. 7. The record-high Long Island average for regular in the AAA survey was $4.346 a gallon, on July 8, 2008. Tuesday's Nassau-Suffolk average was the highest since Oct. 16, 2008, when the average was $3.298, the AAA said.

Andy Lipow, president of Houston consulting firm Lipow Oil Associates Llc, said gasoline prices appear close to peaking for now and probably will recede a bit in January and February.

Lipow says a key reason for the surge in gas prices is the permanent closure of three outmoded refineries in the past year in eastern Canada, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia. And, he warned, any unexpected event, such as a refinery outage, could cause a further price spike.

Manhattan-based Sheela Tobben, of the oil and gas news service Platts, says the temporary shutdown of several East Coast refineries for maintenance also contributed to the present price spike. Falling prices further up the supply chain from local gasoline pumps suggest some relief in sight for motorists, she said.

The reduction in refinery capacity leaves the region more dependent on gasoline imports, for which it must compete on the world market, Lipow said. "You should look at this as a permanent change," he said of the supply vulnerability.

Crude oil prices have risen since summer, in part because the dollar has weakened against foreign currencies - the result experts say of the U.S. trade and federal deficits and low U.S. interest rates. A weaker dollar encourages the purchase of oil futures by investors using foreign currencies. Investors also are buying oil in hopes of greater returns than from stocks and bonds.