Jimmy Wriston is the new secretary of the West Virginia Department of Transportation and commissioner of the state Division of Highways. Gov. Jim Justice appointed him to the position last week following the retirement of former Secretary Byrd White.
West Virginia’s secretary of transportation has one of the most important jobs among those appointed by the governor. Along with public safety and education, the Department of Transportation affects every person who lives in West Virginia daily, and it leaves an impression on out-of-state residents who work, shop or visit here.
It must be one of the more frustrating jobs in state government, as the secretary must work within limits set by the governor and the Legislature to meet the demands of the public as best he can given the limited resources the department has to work with. It’s a basic conflict of economics: unlimited wants vs limited resources.
West Virginia’s road system suffers from decades of deferred maintenance. Every governor promises things will change, but change seldom occurs. One question has been how the department allocates money among the interstate highway system, primary roads and secondary roads. Pavement deteriorates over time, and with so many roads built on the sides of hills and mountains, slips are a common problem.
The easy answer is more money, but from where? Much of the money for maintenance that’s raised in-state comes from fuel taxes. Fuel prices are volatile. The price of gasoline has gone up significantly in the past few months. It’s not as high as it was in 2011, when the price hit $4.259 a gallon in this area, but it’s still higher than it was a year or two ago.
Money from the federal government helps build bridges and repair main roads, but the farther a person drives from the more heavily populated areas, the less likely a road will be smooth and safe.
In a statement announcing Wriston’s appointment, Justice said, “Jimmy has been a driving force behind our efforts to transform the DOT into an agency that prioritizes road maintenance and always goes above and beyond to get the job done.”
May that be the case in the next few years. Complaining about the state of their roads is an enduring trait of West Virginians, and for good reason. Changing that will be a long process — one that lasts far behind the term of one secretary of transportation.
Here’s to hoping Wriston can be that kind of secretary. People of this state could use some progress in seeing improvements in their hard infrastructure: roads, water, sewer, internet and more. Everyone knows we’ve suffered from inadequate roads for long enough.