Press Room

PennDOT Secretary and SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards Joins Weitzman Faculty

PHILADELPHIA— The University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design welcomes Former Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Leslie S. Richards to the faculty in the Department of City and Regional Planning. Secretary Richards, who received a Master of Regional Planning from Penn in 1993, is the immediate past secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the incoming general manager of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the fifth-largest U.S. transit system, which operates across the Delaware Valley.

From inspiring innovation through collaboration to spearheading diversity and inclusion initiatives in industry and government, Secretary Richards has earned a reputation as a highly effective change maker. “I’m often asked by students about the impact that one individual can have in professional life, and Secretary Richards is just an incredible example,” said Fritz Steiner, dean and Paley Professor of the Weitzman School.

Having led agencies in both the private and public sectors for over 20 years, Secretary Richards brings a wealth of experience in the area of transportation project delivery. Trained as a planner and designer, she is recognized for her ability to find common ground, as well as her commitment to engage local communities before implementing transportation projects that incorporate quality of life issues in all decisions.

Secretary Richards has made diversity and inclusion a core component of her work, from changing cultures to implementing programs to supporting marginalized communities. In addition to serving as a champion for others, Secretary Richards herself is a pioneer. “Equity is at the heart of our program at Penn, so the secretary is a role model for students who may question whether there’s a place at the table for them,” said Lisa Servon, Kevin and Erica Penn Presidential Professor and chair of city and regional planning, in reference to the fact that Secretary Richards had been appointed as the first woman and planner to lead PennDOT.

In the Spring of 2020, Richards will teach a course entitled Practice of Transportation Planning: Crafting Policies & Building Infrastructure. This seminar-style course will provide real-world background on transportation policy, funding and decision-making process. Students will explore the planning, budgeting, development, and delivery of multimodal projects and policies at the state and regional level, including national influences and an awareness of the many actors and processes involved.

Appointed secretary of transportation by Governor Tom Wolf in 2015, Secretary Richards led an agency with a $10+ billion annual budget; 11,525 employees; 40,000 miles of state-owned highway miles; 25,000 state-owned bridges; oversight of 38 public transit systems and 3 ports; and responsibility for issuing 9 million driver licenses and registering 12 million vehicles. In addition to being the PennDOT secretary, she was also a member of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and she oversaw that multibillion-dollar organization as its chair since 2017. In addition, she served as chair of the Pennsylvania Public Private Partnership Board. In November, she was chosen to be general manager of SEPTA by a unanimous vote of the board of directors, and will begin her tenure on January 6, 2020.

At PennDOT, Secretary Richards became known as both a visionary and a pragmatic leader. “By staying connected to the research community throughout her career, Secretary Richards has infused every decision with innovation, positioning PennDOT as a leader among state DOTs. By understanding how people and processes work, she was able to affect change at the highest level,” said Megan Ryerson, UPS Chair of Transportation and associate professor of city and regional planning and electrical and systems engineering at Penn.  

Examples of innovation and a pragmatic approach abound through her tenure at PennDOT. Secretary Richards pursued a policy of sustainable infrastructure investments and innovation throughout the Department. Among her signature achievements are the Transportation Investment Plan, a metric-driven strategic investment approach for the 12 Year Capital Program where progress toward reducing structurally deficient bridges and accomplishing more roadway reconstruction in each district and planning region was measured and benchmarked toward statewide goals. In addition, Secretary Richards launched a $2.1 billion maintenance and system preservation initiative, termed PennDOT Road MaP, to address improved maintenance of the state’s 40,000 miles of roads along with an increased emphasis on the interstate system. She also launched a new initiative, PennDOT Connects, for the planning and delivery of capital and maintenance projects to ensure that the department's investments consider the mobility needs of communities in project design.

The University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design prepares students to address complex sociocultural and environmental issues through thoughtful inquiry, creative expression, and innovation. As a diverse community of scholars and practitioners, the School is committed to advancing the public good–both locally and globally–through art, design, planning, and preservation. With 10 degrees and 15 certificates offered, Weitzman graduate programs are consistently ranked among the top 10 in the nation, and serve as a platform for groundbreaking research as well as community engagement.


Media Contact: Michael Grant,, 215.898.2539.