W.Va. Transportation Secretary Testifies Before U.S. Senate Committee
West Virginia’s Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Wednesday on the state’s progress and problems with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Wriston was invited to testify before the committee by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., ranking minority member of the committee. Others invited to testify before the committee included Delaware Transportation Secretary Nicole Majeski; Tucson, Arizona Mayor Regina Romero; and Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
The Committee on Environment and Public Works convened Wednesday’s hearing to seek local input into implementation of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, signed by President Joe Biden in November 2021. The law will put $550 billion into new transportation, infrastructure and broadband projects all over the United States.
Wriston began his testimony by paraphrasing the Infrastructure Act’s goal.
“The mission is quite clear,” Wriston said. “We want to deliver a safe, efficient transportation system while addressing resiliency, equity, and environmental concerns. These are things we can do. These are things we can do.”
Wriston noted West Virginia has the nation's 6th largest highway system. He praised the bridge program, and said the federal formula will insure all of the state’s 7,100 or so bridges are safe to cross.
”We're going to be able to operate within the guidelines of this bridge program,” Wriston said. “We can take care of all the bridges that are rated poor that are off system and do all in this timeframe.”
But while supporting the goals and vision behind the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Wriston predicted failure of the discretionary portions of the act, meaning inconsistent and poorly coordinated federal management. Wriston said discretionary programs can create problems for rural states like West Virginia with large highway systems, including unpredictable funding levels, varying abilities of states to come up with matching funds and having to wait until money is actually awarded to start making serious plans.
Wriston noted it’s taken decades to complete the Corridor H project, largely due to poorly coordinated federal management and he worries that will continue.
“We have worked diligently for years and years on Corridor H and this is why it's taking decades to finish this job. We need consistent guidance, we need to do the front end work on the front end and take care of these issues,” Wriston said. “We're going to fail if we don't make sure that we're all on the same page, get the same guidelines together and communicate honestly and openly. We depend on these federal agencies, we look at them not only as partners, but advocates for the state.”
Capito asked Wriston about greenhouse gas performance measures. Wriston explained why the flexibility that's ingrained in the Act’s formula programs is so important to a rural, mountainous state like West Virginia in reducing greenhouse gasses.
“Transportation is not opposed to working toward reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. You gave me the flexibility to take a holistic approach to look at the overall environmental concerns and put together comprehensive plans to address them,” Wriston said. “Yes, we're going to have to use a little innovation and we're going to have to use some technology to deliver these things.”
Wriston urged members of the Committee on Environment and Public Works to help cut through the red tape and make sure the provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are implemented efficiently and with proper guidance.