By Dorothy Tucker

CHICAGO (CBS) — How painful will filling up at the pump be this year? On Monday, experts were giving their first look at what’s ahead for gas prices.

CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker reports the outlook is kind of a mixed bag for drivers.

As of Monday, the average price of gas in Chicago area was $3.41 a gallon. Last year at this time it was $3.68, but gas prices went well above $4 per gallon in March and April, and then again in August in September.

Analysts predicted prices would climb that high again this year.

Most motorists have grown numb to the pain at the pump.

“I’ve gotten used to it. I guess, in my mind, if it’s anything less than $5, it’s a savings grace, because I remember the years when it was up to $4, $4.50,” driver Rekha Greaves said.

Unfortunately, Chicago area motorists likely will see $4-a-gallon gas again this year.

“We’re subject to the refineries in this region, and that continues to be something that will impact prices here this year,” said senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan.

There are three oil refineries in the Chicago area producing gasoline for the region. DeHaan said they all reduce production in the spring for maintenance, at the same time they start producing the special “summer blend,” which costs more money and raise prices at the pump.

“It will likely be at some point in March; whether it be mid-march or late March. That is the timeframe where we’ll start to see gas prices hit the accelerator,” he said. “And they will likely hit it very hard in late March, and April, before starting to ease in the month of May.”

Last spring, the average gas price in the Chicago area peaked at $4.57 a gallon. The good news this year is that the peak is predicted to be a low of $4.35.

Jasmine Baggett said lower gas prices this year would be a big deal for her pocketbook.

“Putting less money in the tank saves me a lot of money,” she said.

DeHaan based his prediction of a lower gas price peak this year on a number of factors: an economy that continues to improve, better unemployment numbers, a slight improvement in retail sales, and higher domestic crude oil production.

“The fact that we have so much oil sitting on our doorstep is good news for drivers,” DeHaan said.

He said an increase in production could mean more good news in the future of gas prices.

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