CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Amid a flurry of activity to improve West Virginia’s deteriorating roads, Gov. Jim Justice officially named his longtime associate, Byrd White, as the state’s next Transportation secretary.
“It is my number one priority to get all our roads across the state in top shape as quickly as is reasonable and feasible to do,” Justice stated. “Byrd completely understands my directive and I am confident that he will carry this out professionally and efficiently.”
Just a few hours after that, Justice named longtime highways worker Jimmy Wriston as the acting Highways commissioner.
“Jimmy is another person I’m going to rely on to get all our roads across the state in top shape,” Justice stated. “He is the kind of person that gets the job done, plain and simple. He knows what needs fixed and I’m confident he’ll make sure it gets done fast and it gets done right.”
Both appointments were necessary after the governor fired Tom Smith, who held both titles earlier this month. Smith was widely respected, but Justice said he wanted to change West Virginia’s focus to secondary roads.
White, who is a certified public accountant, previously served as executive vice-president of the Vecellio Group, one of the largest road construction companies in the United States. Speaking to MetroNews Monday, White answered critics who say his background in finance may not be suitable for leading an engineering-oriented department.
“The Secretary of Transportation oversees a budget of $1.3 billion. I don’t see anything terribly wrong with being a finance guy, if you’ve got that kind of responsibility,” he said.
State code says the Highways commissioner has to be experienced in highway planning, finance, construction, maintenance, management and supervision qualifying him for the duties of his office.
Wriston started with DOH in 1996. For the past 12 years, he has served as the department’s chief transportation engineer and special program manager.
White’s resume is varied, but he has long had a connection to Justice.
For the past 15 months, White served in the state Department of Revenue, in a role established to ensure out-of-state contractors pay their taxes. He has also been president of the Raleigh County Commission.
White was also manager of Black Knight Country Club in Beckley, which Justice’s family owned. And before that he was senior vice president for Justice Companies and senior vice president of Bluestone Industries, a part of Justice’s coal holdings.
“He’ll work until the cows come home,” Justice said when he first introduced White as the acting Transportation secretary earlier this month.
Speaking on WJLS in Beckley on Tuesday morning, White said the logistics of addressing secondary road repairs are daunting, but not insurmountable.
“There’s almost 15,000 tasks that (Division of Highways engineers and supervisors) have sent in, and we haven’t put any dollar costs with these tasks, yet. Obviously, we have a finite amount of money but we’re going to put every dime that we can into maintenance,” he said.
“I hope that people understand that we’ve got a bunch of great employees, and they’re working as hard as they can but we’ve got 36,000 miles of state-maintained roads in West Virginia. It’s a huge undertaking.”
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, who has been personally and professionally acquainted with White for several years, told MetroNews White’s experience, both in public office and in the private business sector, makes him well-suited for directing a state-level department.
“He’s a practical person that’s run county government. He is used to dealing with people and listening to people and reacting to problems in real time. He’s just really the right person, I believe.” Carper said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
White’s appointment is effective immediately.