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PennDOT Secretaries: 50 Years of Leadership

June 30, 2021 12:00 PM
By: Allison Beck

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​There is a small group of people who can say they've held the title of Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation. Only 12 individuals have served in this position, each bringing wisdom and innovative ideas to the department.

Five of our former secretaries served our agency within the first nine years of our existence, from 1970 to 1979. These were secretaries Victor Ankietus, Jacob Kassab, William Sherlock, James Wilson and George Pulakos. PennDOT continued aggressively advancing interstate and major highway projects through the 1970s. During this time, the department also started offering free rides for senior citizens on fixed transit routes.

During his tenure from 1979 to 1987, Secretary Thomas Larson left a huge impact on our agency, especially regarding highway maintenance operations. He was recognized as "Man of the Year" by Engineering News-Record in 1982 as PennDOT was known as a national leader among public works agencies.

Secretary Howard Yerusalim led the department from 1987 until 1995. During those 12 years under Yerusalim's leadership, PennDOT advanced multimodal programs and resolved difficult engineering, environmental, and financial issues for the completion of major Interstate highway sections in urban areas.

Yerusalim's successor was Secretary Bradley Mallory who served until 2002. Secretary Mallory was determined to promote a more realistic public impression of the dedicated service provided by department employees.  Drawing upon his experience in a variety of PennDOT leadership positions, Secretary Mallory embarked on an outreach campaign to share the PennDOT story publicly.

From 2003 to 2011, the department was led by Secretary Allen Biehler. Secretary Biehler believed that getting local involvement earlier in the process would improve the projects and make them more community focused. He also convened and chaired the Transportation Funding and Reform Commission (TFRC) to examine transportation funding in Pennsylvania, which eventually led to Act 44.

Secretary Barry Schoch took over in 2011, serving as PennDOT's secretary until 2015. Under Secretary Schoch's leadership, Act 89 of 2013 was passed, leading to substantial investments in our infrastructure and establishing a dedicated Multimodal Fund for non-highway modes. He also piloted a new employee-suggestion system called IdeaLink. Still in use today, the system allows employees to submit ideas directly to decision-makers.

In 2015, Leslie Richards became the first woman appointed as the Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation. Leslie's theme for these young women in their careers in a male dominated transportation industry was "you have to see one to be one." Among other accomplishments, Secretary Richards addressed funding early in her tenure where she led the charge on the growing fiscal impact of State Police funding on the motor license fund. WTS Pittsburgh and Central PA chapters had nominated her Woman of the Year 2018 and she was nationally recognized. After moving on from PennDOT in 2019, her only regret was that she left before she was able to accomplish all her goals for the department.

Our current secretary, Yassmin Gramian, was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in May 2020. Beginning her tenure amid the COVID-19 pandemic led to unique and unprecedented challenges, but quick and decisive action helped protect citizens, employees and business partners. With more than 30 years of experience, Secretary Gramian brings a wealth of knowledge to the agency. We're eager to see what milestones will be accomplished under her leadership.

More photos and detailed information about each secretary is available on our Secretaries of Transportation page at PennDOT.gov/50Years


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