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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 58.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Welcome to the age of $4 gas in Madison

The gas is even more expensive just up University Avenue from this station.
The gas is even more expensive just up University Avenue from this station.
Credit:David Medaris
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I needed to drive to work today. No, that's not true. I didn't need to drive to work. I live close enough to my workplace to walk, bike or bus. But I had a headcold and was feeling miserable and needed -- or maybe wanted -- to go pick something up near Shorewood Hills.

True, if I was made of sterner stuff or more committed to living my life closer to my core beliefs, I might have been able to shake off the nasal congestion and complete the errand by bicycle, bus or foot. Instead, I wimped out and drove.

On the upside, driving facilitated an opportunity to confirm first-hand that the price of regular unleaded gas has indeed surpassed $4/gallon at some Madison gas stations over Memorial Day weekend, with the ongoing rise tracked at madisongasprices.com.

I wanted photos of the precedent, but couldn't find any such prices on the east side, where I live. But the website was showing two stations at the corner of University Avenue and North Blackhawk, where the price had surpassed the $4 mark.

After completing my errand, I drove a couple blocks further to see this for myself. And there it was: $4.03 at a Mobil station, and $4.07 across the street at a Shell station.

Anyone who knows about Hubbert's Peak understands that crossing this threshold was inevitable. The world's thirst for oil grows ever more insatiable. At the same time, the finite supply of the resource is dwindling.

While the average price for regular unleaded in Madison remains a few cents below $4/gallon, and while you can find prices as low as $3.89/gallon at stations on Madison's east and north sides, the trends -- from one week ago (when the Madison average was $3.89/gallon), one month ago ($3.58) and one year ago ($3.36) -- all point north, literally. The statewide tracker wisconsingasprices.com is reporting $4.09/gallon for regular unleaded at a handful of stations in Rhinelander, and $4.14/gallon in Mercer.

And now that the $4 threshold has been passed, forecasters are starting to turn their attention to the $5 barrier -- a price that is already being surpassed in California.

At some point, the distinction between needing to drive to drive to work and wanting to drive to work will become much more stark.

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