Vincent Valdes came to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission 3½ years ago with strong reorganization plans and high hopes of finishing his career with hands-on experiences with local communities after working on the funding end of projects with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Now as he retires from the regional planning agency, Valdes leaves behind an agency with new subject offices dedicated to regional environmental issues; regional policy dealing with issues such as locks and dams, freight movement and artificial intelligence; a greater capability of going after federal funds; and building a role in broadband connectivity.

But he’s also leaving a bit unfulfilled because the national pandemic greatly reduced the opportunity for him to interact with hundreds of local leaders spread across the 10-county area. He’s returning to the Norfolk, Virginia, area to help with family health concerns.

“COVID was one of those obstacles that I don’t think anyone could have anticipated,” Valdes said as he looked back over his time here. “I really wanted to engage locally with all of the communities of southwestern Pennsylvania. It was just a matter of COVID being the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

When he arrived in June 2020, Valdes inherited an agency with a strong core of meeting its federal mandate to oversee funding for regional transportation projects. But there were criticisms of the agency favoring urban centers and not doing enough to serve other regional needs.

In that area, Valdes feels the agency has made significant strides through the new concentration areas. The organizational structure is in place for the agency to take a greater role in the region, he believes, especially with a successor such as outgoing Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald ready to hit the ground running.

“I think all of the mechanisms are in place now for full engagement,” Valdes said. “We’ve certainly established the forum for [smaller communities] to have a greater role. The table has been set for that to happen better.”

That includes relocating the agency from hard-to-find offices in Downtown’s Chatham Center complex to the renovated produce terminal in the Strip District, where there is street-level access.

As an example of a more regional approach to major issues, Valdes pointed to the shortcomings in broadband coverage that were highlighted by the pandemic. Some school districts had huge problems with remote learning because their students didn’t have home internet access.

That led to strong federal and state efforts to provide complete coverage. SPC has taken a leading role in this region as hundreds of millions of dollars have become available to address the issue.

“It took COVID to show the importance,” Valdes said. “Connectivity is a quality-of-life issue like housing and transportation. It’s equally important.

“I was happy SPC decided to get involved and is creating an immediate impact. Not only was it an important new area, we stepped forward and took a new role.”

The agency also was awarded a $142.3 million federal grant for a series of projects along the Parkway East and the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway that will be carried out by the state Department of Transportation and Pittsburgh Regional Transit, the type of grant the region may not have pursued in the past.

Of course, those aren’t the only areas seeing huge investment through the Biden administration’s strong emphasis on infrastructure projects in the $2 trillion economic stimulus program.

“The opportunities made available out of Washington, D.C., are unprecedented,” said Valdes, 64. “I think I’m living a dream as a transportation professional. It’s unbelievably exciting.

“It’s my dumb luck that I’m leaving and I won’t be part of it.”

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at