gas prices increaseUS consumer prices rose in February at their fastest pace in more than three years, a jump driven largely by surging gasoline costs.

Gas-pump costs surged 9 percent in the month, according to the Labor Department data released Friday.

That pushed the department’s consumer price index (CPI) up 0.7 percent for the month, its biggest one-month change since June 2009. Back then, in the month just before the nation officially emerged from recession, a big jump in the price index also stemmed from a spike in gas-pump prices.

The good news is that gas prices have eased since the February survey.

“The consumer price outlook looks relatively modest,” said Chris Christopher, an economist at the forecasting firm IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass. “Pump prices are expected to fall and food price increases seem well under control.”

Tamer prices ahead would be welcome news, since American workers are still digesting a 2 percent hike in payroll taxes, after a temporary tax cut expired in January.

As of Friday, the average cost of regular gasoline is $3.70 per gallon, according to AAA’s daily fuel gauge report. That’s down a bit from a week ago, but up 8 cents over the past month.

Partly due to gas prices, consumer confidence also took a hit in a separate report released Friday. The Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment fell nearly 6 points in mid-March to a level of 71.8.