This past March, Secretary Leslie S. Richards traveled to Austin, Texas, for the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) conference. Selected to speak among thousands of applicants, the Secretary was invited to share how
PennDOT Connects is building better, stronger communities with a national audience.
Founded in 1987, SXSW brings together leaders in the music, film, science, technology, and government industries to share creative ideas and stimulate change. Other speakers at the 2019 conference included Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, award-winning journalist Katie Couric, and Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley. One transportation-themed session featured Chris Urmson, CEO of Aurora Innovation, and Malcolm Gladwell, author and host of Revisionist History, who discussed the future of automated vehicles.
The Secretary's presentation, "Building Bridges to Connect Communities," shared her views on the careful balance departments of transportation must make between maintaining the transportation system and improving the quality of life that same system serves. PennDOT Connects is part of a significant evolution from an agency focused on highways to a modernized agency focused on providing multimodal options for the communities it connects.
She quoted Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, who summarized the power of this initiative: "every dollar invested into one of your projects is a dollar invested into a community."
Through the innovative PennDOT Connects approach, the agency is considering community needs at the very beginning of every project. The Secretary illustrated this point when she told a story about how a designer met with a community first before designing a bridge. It saved time to build with the community's vision in mind from the start rather than assuming what he thought the community might need. She highlighted the importance of truly listening before beginning any project to maximize the value.
Secretary Richards also shared examples of PennDOT Connects projects and their impact. One example was a major road reconstruction in the Pocono Mountains. The community wanted to build a multi-use trail and PennDOT was able to incorporate a retaining wall on the road that allowed for a trail alongside of it. As a result, the community will be able to build the trail much sooner and at a reduced cost.
Another example was about a well-loved bridge that needed repair. The bridge was a favorite picture spot for big life moments in the community such as wedding and graduations. PennDOT was able to replicate the original design to preserve what the community loved and valued.
In Johnstown, PennDOT improved a confusing intersection that most people would bypass, making it safer with fewer accidents. In addition, the shoulder was widened to allow for a memorial path to be built from the location of the Twin Towers in New York City to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Stoystown as a way to remember those lost on September 11, 2001.
Finally, she showcased a billion dollar project where PennDOT will reconnect communities in Philadelphia to the Delaware River through creating more green space and wetland mitigation.
Secretary Richards reminded everyone how listening and building stronger relationships through PennDOT Connects has allowed PennDOT to respond better to emergencies and to ensure that every day is a beautiful day in our neighborhoods.
To listen to Secretary Richards's talk and learn more about SXSW, visit:
Top photo courtesy of Jonathan Todd.