PennDOT announces Freight Movement Plan crucial to PA economy, travel

A comprehensive strategic plan for moving foods throughout Pennsylvania has been announced by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). 

The 2045 Freight Movement Plan (FMP) is deemed by Gov. Josh Shapiro to be critical to Pennsylvania as it promotes economic growth and safe travel. The plan is available on PennDOT’s website.  

PennDOT Secretary Michael Carroll said the new Freight Movement Plan will help guide the investment decisions the Shapiro Administration makes regarding infrastructure that supports freight movement.

“The plan positions us to respond to the major changes from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and ensure Pennsylvania has a safe, efficient, and integrated freight system to support jobs and commerce,” Carroll said in a press release.

The state of Pennsylvania’s freight infrastructure and PennDOT’s efforts to improve movement of freight are provided in the FMP. The freight plan seeks to ensure that Pennsylvania remains eligible for approximately $58.5 million annually in federal funding through 2026.

FMP, along with the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), sets priorities and transportation strategies to guide project investments. The FMP and LRTP aim to improve mobility, safety, sustainability, resilience, and fairness for moving people and goods throughout Pennsylvania.

“The FMP’s goals and objectives set a clear direction, and PennDOT will carry out an Action Plan in coordination with freight stakeholders to make systematic progress over the next four years,” PennDOT Deputy Secretary for Planning Larry Shifflet said. “We’ll be regularly tracking implementation progress and performance measures in Pennsylvania’s biennial Transportation Performance Report.”

PennDOT collaborated with freight stakeholders over a two-year period to develop a plan that addresses state and federal provisions for freight planning.

Gas prices continue dropping

Just in time for holiday travel, gas prices are dropping in Pennsylvania. 

According to AAA East Central, the state’s average gas price is down ten cents this week to $3.659 per gallon. 

Gas prices in the Lehigh Valley were even lower. 

The average price for a gallon of gas in the Lehigh Valley on Dec. 20 was $3.473 per gallon compared to $3.759 per gallon on Dec. 13. Prices are still about ten cents higher than they were a year ago. On Dec. 20, 2021 the average price for a gallon of gas in the Lehigh Valley was $3.550. 

The national average slid 12 cents over the last week to $3.123. This is almost 55 cents less than a month ago and 18.5 cents less than a year ago.  

There are now 20 states with averages below $3 per gallon, AAA said. 

According to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), gas demand decreased slightly from 8.36 to 8.26 million barrels per day last week. That coincides with the arrival of the winter driving season, when fewer people are driving because of shorter days and poor road conditions.  

Meanwhile, total domestic gasoline stocks rose significantly by 4.5 million barrels to 223.6 million barrels. Increasing supply and lower gasoline demand have helped push pump prices lower. 


Outdoor recreation provides Pa. with economic surge

Outdoor recreation contributed $13.64 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy, accounting for 152,000 jobs, and 1.6% of the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced Thursday.  

The figures are per the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) statistics and represent an increase of 22% from 2020. 

Supported by recreational assets, diversified economy, marketing, retail, and tourism, Pennsylvania has the sixth largest outdoor recreation economy in the country. Pennsylvania Director of Outdoor Recreation Nathan Reigner said in a statement that this recent round of economic data proves that the state’s outdoor recreation is the product of landscapes and partnerships. 

“Outdoor recreation continues to be a thriving and significant industry within the commonwealth and this data helps us better understand what we are doing well, while also providing guidance on where we can grow this industry for its own sake and to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians,” said Reigner. “Unlike economic development through other industries, development through outdoor recreation also stimulates physical health, mental wellbeing, social cohesion, and environmental sustainability.” 

Recreational vehicle (rv) camping comprises the greatest single contribution among core outdoor activities to the state’s outdoor economy. The rv contribution represented more than $700 million in value in 2021, a 17% increase over 2020. Boating and fishing ($555 million), hunting, shooting, and trapping ($354 million), ATV and motorcycle riding ($304 million), serve to create substantial economic contributions. Additional recreational activities spur economic productivity in supporting industries, including nearly $4 billion from travel and tourism activity and more than $1 billion from local recreational trips made by Pennsylvanians. 

Outdoor recreation accounts for approximately 3% of jobs in America and $862 billion in economic output nationally. Jessica Turner, president of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR), said BEA data emphasizes the importance of investing in public lands, waters, and infrastructure for all types of recreation in Pennsylvania. 

“From the creation of jobs and increased profit for small businesses in local economies to larger boons to the state’s economy, this sector is a consistent driver, even in times of economic uncertainty,” said Turner. “The strength of the outdoor recreation economy reflects what many in the industry have long known to be true: there are infinite benefits that come from more people spending time outdoors, and they’ll only grow with continued investment.” 

Recreation activities are diversifying, Reigner noted, with new users inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and empowered by new recreation technologies from advanced gear to more readily available information. An increase in remote work has made possible recreation-based lifestyles that attract remote workers to become new residents in communities with recreational opportunities.

Pennsylvania’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, created by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, will seek to utilize collaboration with other government agencies, businesses, communities, economic developers, user groups, and recreation resource managers to grow the state’s outdoor economy. 

“Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation economy is large, diverse, and not well connected to either state government or the economic development community,” said Reigner. “It is our job in the Office of Outdoor Recreation to be a partner for Pennsylvania’s outdoor economy, to understand its needs and help it prosper so it can deliver the benefits of good health, vibrant communities, conserved and connected natural resources, and entrepreneurship opportunities.” 

Reigner said there is room for improvement in Pennsylvania ranking seventh in in the U.S. for total compensation for outdoor recreation work and 38th in rate of compensation growth.

Turnpike toll rates to rise 5% in 2023

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission approved a 5% toll increase next year for all E-ZPass and Toll By Plate customers that will take effect Jan. 8, 2023.

The most common toll for a passenger vehicle will climb from $1.70 to $1.80 for E-ZPass customers and from $4.10 to $4.40 for Toll By Plate customers. For a Class-5 tractor trailer, the most common toll will rise from $13.70 to $14.40 for E-ZPass and from $28 to $29.40 for Toll By Plate.

“The PTC has been forced to increase tolls annually through the foreseeable future to meets its financial obligations under Act 44 of 2007,” Turnpike Commission Chairman Mark Compton said in a release. “It’s worth noting that, even with these ongoing annual increases, our per-mile toll rate continues to be below the midline compared with rates of other U.S. tolling agencies.”

In the 15 years since Act 44 went into effect, the Turnpike has transferred nearly $8 billion to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the vast majority of which was in the form of borrowing (issuance of bond debt) that must be repaid by the Turnpike Commission over 30 years.

“As an organization, I am proud of the fact that we work hard to manage the debt placed upon us by making prudent borrowing decisions and restricting operating-budget growth,” Compton said. “While we are now essentially free from this onerous Act 44 commitment, we must continue to honor the debt-service obligations for 30 years. But a measure of relief is under way, and motorists can expect the level of increases to ease in a few years.”

Based on traffic and revenue projections, the Turnpike Commission’s plan calls for toll increases of 5% through 2025, 4% in 2026, 3.5% in 2027 and 3% annually from 2028 to 2050.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Harrisburg metro comes in 35th among best places to live; Allentown ranks 111th  

Among central Pennsylvania and Lehigh Valley metro areas, Harrisburg leads the way, ranking 35th in the latest U.S. News & World Report analysis of the best places to live. 

The publication examined the nation’s 150 most populous metro regions, rating them based on quality of life, job market, the value of living there and people’s desire to live there. 

In Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh was 26th, followed by Harrisburg, Lancaster (61st), Reading (74th), Scranton (89th), York (92nd), Philadelphia (99th) and Allentown (111th). 

U.S. News noted that “the great outdoors are easily accessible in Harrisburg… . Bikers and runners take in the scenery of the Susquehanna River on the trails of Riverfront Park, which also hosts many of the metro area’s annual festivals and events. Residents also enjoy hiking the famous Appalachian Trail or camping and mountain biking in the many nearby state parks and forests.” 

“This city is within easy driving distance of Amish country, Gettysburg National Military Park and Hersheypark … . Big-city weekend getaways are also there for the taking; New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are a few hours away by car.” 

Ryan Unger, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC, wrote in an email that “we are excited to see the Harrisburg region recognized nationally as one of the best places to live in the country. We know that our region has a high quality of life with an affordable cost of living and it is great to see national publications like U.S. News agree.” 

He said the region “continues to outpace the state in job and population growth as people gravitate here for our business, recreation, culture and residential opportunities. We know we will see Harrisburg continue to be recognized on similar lists and move our way to the top.” 

Real estate agent Carole Kirchner was optimistic that Lancaster would improve as well from its ranking of 61st out of 150. 

“Honestly, I think we will move up on that list,” she said via email, echoing Unger. “I am finding that people love Lancaster and especially our city. It is thriving. I (was) born and raised in Lancaster city and have no desire to move anyplace else. I am also finding that people who moved away are coming back!” 

“Lancaster, Pennsylvania, offers a balance between natural and commercial spaces that residents appreciate,” U.S. News said. “Expansive farms rub elbows with manicured suburbs, which lead right into the bustling city. A short drive can take one through each of these environments. Each area boasts its own unique groups of inhabitants: farmers, families, college students and young professionals. From close-knit church communities to the indie coffee shop scene, Lancaster holds something for everyone.” 

U.S. News also praised Allentown, writing that “much of the charm in Pennsylvania’s third largest metro area comes from its vast collection of historic homes and buildings, commercial structures and century-old industrial buildings.”  

“Nestled within the Lehigh Valley, with the Blue Mountain range to the north and South Mountain to the southwest, Allentown offers hikers and skiers access to great trails and snow. Residents can drive to New York City or Philadelphia in roughly two hours. Allentown’s convenient location, commitment to healthy living and celebration of the arts make it a great place for active folks to live.”  

However, its rank of 111th out of 150 metro areas doesn’t ring true to Loren Keim, president of Century 21 Keim. 

In an email, he noted, “I’m excited that Allentown finished in the top 10%, being ranked 11th out of 150 areas, in the best areas to retire. The strongest ratings for the region were in quality of life and value. Eight of the top 11 greatest places to retire were in Florida and of those in Pennsylvania, Allentown fell just behind Lancaster. In 2021, housing prices were still over 9% below the national average in the Lehigh Valley, despite the close proximity to New York City, Philadelphia and northern New Jersey.” 

Keim added that Allentown also ranked 23rd in safest places to live, just outside the top 15%.  

However, in the overall score for best places to reside, Allentown’s rating “was significantly affected by a low score in the desirability index, which really was a relatively small poll of 3,500 individuals … . The highest-ranked cities including Huntsville, Colorado Springs, Green Bay, Boulder and San Jose certainly are going to be better known as desirable places to live.”  

“While this score is low for 2021,” he said, “I believe the valley is a great place to live as well as retire and will appear higher in the rankings next year.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer. 

LVIA passenger traffic surges more than 400%

It looks like air travel is back.

The Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority is reporting a surge in passenger traffic at Lehigh Valley International Airport after months of depressed travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Tom Stoudt, executive director of the LNAA, 71,512 passengers used the airport in May. That’s a 445.6% increase over May of 2020.

“Industry experts predicted a resurgence, but the pace has certainly been faster than those projections. After all the impacts airports experienced during the pandemic, the heavy volume of passengers is a welcome sight to see,” said Stoudt.

March, which marked the anniversary of the pandemic shutdown, was the first month the airport hadn’t reported a decrease in year-over-year traffic.

But the increase was relatively small.

The authority said 46,596 passengers traveled through the airport in March. That was a 4.7% increase over March 2020, which marked the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest numbers seem to indicate more of a return to normal, and passengers should anticipate that.

“We are anticipating an extremely busy summer travel season over the next few months as airline capacity is back to pre-pandemic levels. Passengers should allow for extra time at the TSA Checkpoint when using ABE to ensure a more enjoyable experience during this period of increased activity,” said Stoudt.

Meanwhile, cargo traffic, which surged during the pandemic, is down.

The authority reported that 18,113,022 pounds of air cargo was processed through Lehigh Valley International Airport last month – a decline of 15.34% from May 2020.



AAA: Travel advisers starting to see post-COVID-19 travel boom

Travel is beginning to pick up again as more people become vaccinated and COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

Sally McCorrison, director of travel for AAA East Penn East Central in Allentown, said travel advisers are busier than ever right now.

“It’s picked up even more than we thought. Our agents are busy to the point they tell me ‘we can’t get all our work done by the end of the day,’” she said.

She said the pent up demand from people who love to travel, but haven’t been able to over the past year is definitely showing.

“People are saying ‘I want to get out,’” McCorrison said. “The minute everyone is vaccinated, they call us. Three weeks ago we started to see a boom. We had one customer who booked four trips in two weeks.”

While most of the work has been booking new trips, she said a big part of the work the agents are doing is rebooking travel plans that were cancelled during the height of the pandemic last year. And, despite the improvements, those who were a little too bold with their advanced bookings are still cancelling travel plans to areas that still have restrictions.

McCorrison said there are many places that are open. U.S. destinations by plane, train or motorcoach are heavily in demand. She’s also seeing a great deal of requests for regional travel options.

Florida has been such a popular destination, agents are having trouble finding rooms in some areas, which she said has been frustrating for customers.

“People don’t understand why they can’t get reservations,” she said.

People are also being drawn strongly to Caribbean destinations like Cancun and Jamaica as they look to get that exotic vacation they missed out on last year.

McCorrison said many people are booking trips right away, but there’s been a stronger demand for summer travel, when kids are out of school, and some destinations, like Europe, are getting bookings for later in the fall or even next year.

While some European countries still have travel restrictions, she said some destinations, like Egypt, Iceland and Israel are all now open to foreign tourists.

Cruises from U.S. ports are still limited, so many cruise lines have moved their home ports to places in the Caribbean so that they can still operate, even if it is at lower capacity.

McCorrison said that is going to lead to higher prices. For one, travelers will have to fly to the home port, rather than drive to a U.S.-based shore. Also, with less people on board, prices for the remaining rooms are more expensive.

One of the advantages, however, is that with new home ports, cruise lines are exploring new destination ports as well.

“For years people have been saying they want new ports, and now they’re getting them,” McCorrison said.

Discover Lehigh Valley getting professionals Peeped up with diorama contest

Travel, meeting and event industry professionals are being asked to use Peeps to promote the Lehigh Valley in a diorama contest. PHOTO/FILE


Discover Lehigh Valley, the tourism authority for Lehigh and Northampton counties, is asking professionals in the travel, meeting and event industries to get a little creative for its latest promotion.

Similar to the annual Peeps diorama contest held for New Year’s Peepfest each year, the authority has organized its first-ever Peeps Meet Diorama Contest in partnership with Joanne Dennison of The MeetGuide.

Taking a step up from the tradition Peeps dioramas, this contest also includes products from another major Lehigh Valley-based manufacturer, Crayola.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Joanne Dennison and offer a creative outlet to our fellow meetings, events, and tourism industry professionals while so many are still social distancing at home,” says Bree Nidds, vice president of sales for Discover Lehigh Valley. “Lehigh Valley is home to iconic brands including Peeps & Co. and Crayola, so it was a no brainer to include these products as the art supplies for the Peeps Meet Diorama Contest. We know that our colleagues will love to flex their creative muscles while learning about our region and our venues from the comfort of their homes.”

The first 40 registrants will be given supplies including Peeps, Crayola crayons and Crayola modeling clay to create dioramas around the themes Holiday, I Miss Sports, Meetings & Events, or Traveling Peeps – and incorporate at least one Peeps brand candy.

Because the contest is promoting tourism in the Lehigh Valley, up to five bonus points will be awarded to Lehigh Valley related scenes.

Once completed, registrants will submit one photo of the diorama by March 20. The public will then vote on Discover Lehigh Valley’s Facebook page from March 22-26 and winners will be announced April 2.

PennDOT issues road restrictions for storm travel

As a severe winter storm continue across Pennsylvania, PennDOT has issued a number of travel restrictions, especially for commercial vehicles.

In a press release, PennDOT said the following restrictions are in place today.

Starting at 9 a.m., vehicle restrictions are anticipated on the following roadways at Tier 3 of the commonwealth’s weather event vehicle restriction plan:

  • Interstate 76/276/95 (PA Turnpike mainline) from Interstate 81 (Carlisle Interchange, Exit 226) to the New Jersey border;
  • Interstate 80 from Interstate 99 to Interstate 81;
  • The entire length of Interstate 81 in both directions;
  • The entire length of Interstate 83 in both directions;
  • Interstate 283 in both directions;
  • Interstate 476 (PA Turnpike Northeast Extension) from Interstate 276 (PA Turnpike mainline) to Interstate 78 (Lehigh Valley Interchange, Exit 56); and
  • Interstate 476 (PA Turnpike Northeast Extension) from Interstate 80 (Pocono Interchange, Exit 95) to Interstate 81 (Clarks Summit Interchange, Exit 131).

On roadways with Tier 3 restrictions in place, no commercial vehicles are permitted except loaded single trailers with chains or approved Alternate Traction Devices.

Additionally, all school buses, commercial buses, motor coaches, motorcycles, RVs/motorhomes and passenger vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, etc.) towing trailers are not permitted on affected roadways while restrictions are in place.

Also starting at 9 a.m., vehicle restrictions are anticipated on the following roadways at Tier 4 of the commonwealth’s weather event vehicle restriction plan:

  • Route 22 from Interstate 78 to the New Jersey border;
  • The entire length of Route 33 in both directions;
  • The entire length of Interstate 78 in both directions;
  • Interstate 80 from Interstate 81 to the New Jersey border;
  • The entire length of Interstate 84 in both directions;
  • The entire length of Interstate 380 in both directions; and
  • Interstate 476 (PA Turnpike Northeast Extension) from Interstate 78 (Lehigh Valley Interchange, Exit 56) to Interstate 80 (Pocono Interchange, Exit 95).

On roadways with Tier 4 restrictions in place, no commercial vehicles are permitted.

Additionally, all school buses, commercial buses, motor coaches, motorcycles, RVs/motorhomes and passenger vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, etc.) towing trailers are not permitted on affected roadways while restrictions are in place.

Tier 1 restrictions remain in effect on the following roadways:

  • Interstate 70 in both directions from the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Interstate 76) to the Maryland state line;
  • Interstate 76 (PA Turnpike mainline) from Breezewood Interchange, Exit 161, to Interstate 81 (Carlisle Interchange, Exit 226)
  • Interstate 80 in both directions from Interstate 99 to Interstate 79; and
  • The entire length of Interstate 99 in both directions.


Under Tier 1 restrictions, the following vehicles are not permitted on affected roadways:

  • Tractors without trailers;
  • Tractors towing unloaded or lightly loaded enclosed trailers, open trailers or tank trailers;
  • Tractors towing unloaded or lightly loaded tandem trailers;
  • Enclosed cargo delivery trucks that meet the definition of a CMV;
  • Passenger vehicles (cars, SUV’s, pickup trucks, etc.) towing trailers;
  • Recreational vehicles/motorhomes;
  • School buses, commercial buses and motor coaches not carrying chains or Alternate Traction Devices (ATD’s); and Motorcycles.


PennDOT said additional speed and vehicle restrictions on these and other interstates could be added depending on changing conditions.

It urges motorists to avoid travel during the storm if possible. But if travel is necessary, use caution, reduce speeds and be aware of changing weather conditions.

Hotels still suffering the impact of COVID-19 travel decline

The American Hotel & Lodging Association reports that 65% of hotels in the country have been operating below the breakeven point. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES –


The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reduced the number of people travelling both for business and leisure, and as Labor Day approaches hotel operators are saying it’s been a cruel summer.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association reports that 65% of hotels in the country have been operating below the breakeven point even the traditional Labor Day Holiday weekend bookings are down 66% from last year.

“While hotels have seen an uptick in demand during the summer compared to where we were in April, occupancy rates are nowhere near where they were a year ago. Thousands of hotels can’t afford to pay their mortgages and are facing the possibility of foreclosure and closing their doors permanently,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA.

John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association said the Keystone state is also struggling, but seeing some improvement.

He said occupancy at Pennsylvania hotels has risen to about 42% from a low of about 17% in March and April.

Still, he said, it’s not enough.

“A well run hotel can break even at about 50%,” Longstreet noted.

According to the AHLA, urban hotels are suffering the most and facing collapse with cripplingly low occupancies of 38%, significantly below the national average.

Longstreet said the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh area hotels are even lower than the national average at around 30% occupancy.

The good news is that hotels in the Lehigh Valley and Pocono areas are doing better than average.

Hotels in the Poconos were at about 62% occupancy in July, with the Lehigh Valley just slightly lower.

“You’ve got a terrific resort area within driving distance of the largest metropolitan area in the country [New York],” he said.

He said the Lancaster area hasn’t been as lucky.  He said hotels in much of the Pennsylvania Dutch country were at about 42% occupancy during the summer, but Longstreet said he had talked to a number of hotels who were operating in the teens.

Nationally, consumer travel remains at all-time low, said the AHLA, with only 33% of Americans reporting they have traveled overnight for leisure or vacation since March and just 38% saying they are likely to travel by the end of the year.

But Longstreet said he expects that will return. His bigger concern is for business travel, which makes up more than half of all hotel stays.

“Corporate travel will be the slowest to come back,” Longstreet said.

He said some analysts are predicting that it will be 2023 before corporate travel returns to normal, but he is concerned that as more companies rely on remote meeting technologies, like Zoom, the decline will remain permanent.

He said event revenue has also bottomed out for hotels. He said weddings, parties and corporate events are always a major source of revenue for hotels and with limits on gatherings of over 25 people in the state that revenue has all but disappeared.

He estimates that about 10% of hotels won’t survive the pandemic.

Longstreet said the industry is hoping for federal relief.

While hotels did receive some PPP money, employee salaries aren’t the only expenses they need help with.

He said most hotels did not qualify for Main Street lending, which would have helped more.

He said the industry is hoping that the government will amend the requirements for Main Street loans, noting that only $60 billion of $500 billion in available funds have been dispersed because of the stiff requirements.

“There is a desperate need for the next round of funding with less restrictions on how it is spent,” Longstreet said.

The AHLA is also calling on congress for further assistance.

“Our industry is in crisis. Thousands of hotels are in jeopardy of closing forever, and that will have a ripple effect throughout our communities for years to come,” said Rogers. “We need help urgently to keep hotels open so that our industry and our employees can survive and recover from this public health crisis.”