The average U.S. retail price for regular-grade gasoline rose 5.7 cents to $2.056 a gallon in the week ended today, less than a cent below...

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The average U.S. retail price for regular-grade gasoline rose 5.7 cents to $2.056 a gallon in the week ended today, less than a cent below the all-time record reached in May, the Energy Department said.

Gasoline prices across the U.S. have climbed since mid- February as refiners passed along higher costs for crude oil, which makes up about half the motor fuel’s price. Oil futures in New York have climbed 26 percent this year to $54.95 a barrel today, the highest since October.

Seattle-area gas prices are about 20 cents short of the local record, but they will probably reach the record in the spring, said Janet Ray, spokeswoman for AAA Washington.

The average price of regular unleaded gasoline in the Seattle metro area is $2.16 a gallon, up from $1.90 a month ago, Ray said. The record is $2.35 a gallon, set last May 29.



Pump prices were highest on the West Coast at an average $2.228 a gallon, up 5.4 cents from a week ago, and lowest in Gulf Coast states at $1.968 a gallon, up 6.8 cents.

Prices may start to decline because gasoline inventories are above normal levels, said Cory Eckhardt, a trader with Advest Inc. in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

“We’re well into comfortable levels” of gasoline, he said.

U.S. inventories in the week ended March 4 totaled 224.3 million barrels, 12 percent higher than a year earlier, according to an Energy Department report last week. Supplies were 8.9 percent above the five-year average.

Prices jump at the end of every winter, as refineries switch from winter-grade to summer-grade gas, said Ray of AAA Washington. But this year, changes to the gasoline and energy-futures markets are also pushing up prices, she said.

In a normal year, prices peak around May and level out during the summer, Ray added.

The increase in retail gasoline was largest in states such as Georgia and the Carolinas in the Lower Atlantic region, where gasoline jumped 7.8 cents on average to $2.019 a gallon, the department said in a weekly survey of about 800 filling stations.

The latest nationwide retail gasoline average price was up 19 percent from $1.724 a year ago and 0.8 cent below a record $2.064 a gallon on May 24, according to Energy Department data.


Seattle Times staff writer Ashley Bach contributed to this report.