(Harrisburg, PA | April 4, 2022) -- Visit Hershey & Harrisburg (VHH) joins local PA chambers, economic development entities, statewide business organizations, business leaders, affected community leaders, and citizens in urging PennDOT to reconsider its P3 Major Bridge Tolling Initiative, which - if implemented - would levy tolls on nine (9) bridges across the state in need of major repairs or replacement. VHH supports the need to find sustainable funding sources to address these critical infrastructure projects, but feels the implementation of tolling - specifically on the Interstate 83 "South Bridge" in Dauphin County - could disincentivize would-be job seekers in the Leisure & Hospitality industry at a time when rebuilding that workforce is critical to both the local and statewide economy. VHH urges PennDOT to consider alternative, long-term funding plans for critical bridge projects.
The following letter was shared with PennDOT.
April 4, 2022
Mr. Derek R. Mitch
Senior Project Manager
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
2140 Herr Street
Harrisburg, PA 17103
Dear Mr. Mitch,
Visit Hershey & Harrisburg (VHH) writes to you today in opposition to PennDOT’s proposal to place electronic tolls on the I-83 John Harris Memorial (South) Bridge. As the official Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) representing Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, we wholly appreciate the necessity of infrastructure improvements. However, we feel the current proposal will negatively impact two important initiatives that drive local economic impact: rebuilding the region’s Leisure & Hospitality (L&H) workforce, and attracting new business across the Group Tour, Meetings & Conventions, International, Sports & Events, and Leisure travel markets.
At a time when the region’s Leisure & Hospitality industry is struggling to fill jobs lost during the pandemic, it is critical that community leaders work together to position the Hershey Harrisburg Region as a competitive and vibrant destination for careers in tourism.
Daily tolling could disincentivize job-seekers – both local and non-residents seeking relocation opportunities – when our collective goal should be creating incentives that support rebuilding a workforce that (by traditional pre-Covid measurements) welcomes more than 10 million visitors annually. These visitors spend more than $2.56 billion while staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants, toasting in our breweries and wineries, and enjoying our museums, attractions, sports events, concerts, and outdoor recreation opportunities.
According to U.S. Travel, the Leisure & Hospitality industry accounted for a staggering 73% of all U.S. jobs lost and is taking longer to recover than other industries. As of February 2022, the industry’s employment rate was 9% below 2019 levels – an equivalent of 1.5 million jobs still lost.
To apply a local frame to the national L&H employment trend, Dauphin County’s tourism industry traditionally creates more than 20,000 jobs annually. As travel trends make their steady return to pre-pandemic levels, thousands of local L&H jobs that were lost since 2019 have returned but remain unfilled. While the region’s tourism-related businesses have risen to the many challenges faced in uncertain times, the ongoing employment gap imposes a harsh disadvantage - especially to small and independent businesses – in efforts to meet the demands of increased travel to our destination.
In addition to a negative effect on reestablishing a healthy workforce, daily tolling can disincentivize event operators, meeting planners, and tour companies from hosting events in our region. Ease of travel and affordability are high on the list of amenities we cite during a bid process. To continue to position Dauphin County as a desirable location for all travel markets, it is critical to limit additional tolls on visitors.
VHH supports efforts to identify a long-term funding plan for infrastructure repairs that are critical to the region’s continued economic growth. However, we urge PennDOT to consider alternative funding sources that do not burden vulnerable workers or negatively impact the region’s ability to attract new workers and new tourism business.
While this letter focuses on impacts specific to the Leisure & Hospitality industry, VHH maintains that the combination of a strong L&H workforce and the maintaining of our destination’s image as affordable and accessible are key pillars in the overall foundation of a strong community and a thriving local and statewide economy.
VHH understands the need to address aging and outdated infrastructure. However, every effort should be made to find a solution that does not burden efforts to drive local economic impact by way of a healthy workforce and a destination that’s desirable to all travel markets.
President & CEO
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Visit Hershey & Harrisburg Media Contact
Allison Rohrbaugh | Director of Communications & Content
firstname.lastname@example.org |Cell 717-580-9396 | Desk 717-231-2980
ABOUT VISIT HERSHEY & HARRISBURG
Visit Hershey & Harrisburg (VHH) is the official non-profit 501c6 partnership-based Destination Marketing Organization serving Dauphin County. Visit Hershey & Harrisburg is responsible for developing and executing comprehensive sales, marketing, and communication programs to compete for leisure, business, group, and sporting event travel market segments among leading and national destinations. VHH seeks to generate economic growth and stability through the marketing and promotion of travel to the Hershey Harrisburg region and to coalesce, develop, and expand its hospitality industry, products, and workforce.