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Ranking Member Capito Welcomes WV DOT Secretary Wriston, Delivers Opening Statement for Hearing on Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Implementation

Click here to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening remarks from the committee hearing.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing titled, “Putting the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to Work: The State, City, and County Perspectives.” The hearing featured testimony from multiple witnesses, including West Virginia Secretary of Transportation Jimmy Wriston.

Below is the opening statement, beginning with an introduction of Secretary Wriston, of Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), as prepared for delivery.

“Thank you Chairman Carper, and I want to thank all of our witnesses for being here today…I wanted to combine my statement to an opening statement and also to an especially warm welcome to Secretary Wriston.

“A little about him. He’s a dedicated public servant and he has served the state of West Virginia for over 25 years.

“Last year, he received a much-deserved appointment to serve as Secretary of the West Virginia DOT, and because that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he also serves as the commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Highways.

“Secretary Wriston began his career at the West Virginia DOT in the Bridge Department. You wonder why I’m always talking about bridges. He then moved to the Engineering Division and for the past twelve years served as the department’s Chief Transportation Engineer and Special Program Manager.

“This wealth of experience has positioned him perfectly to lead the department. 

"The IIJA has provided West Virginia the opportunity to make major improvements in our roadway and bridge systems.

“The work of West Virginia DOT has made it possible to move projects forward on Corridor H, Coalfields Expressway, Jefferson Road expansion in South Charleston, and I-64 St. Albans-Nitro Bridge.

“The state also recently received two RAISE grants for the Wheeling streetscape and Morgantown Greenbag Road corridor project.

“I appreciate your leadership, Secretary Wriston, on these and other projects, and look forward to our continued partnership.

“With the secretary today, we know that one person can’t do it all, he has with him Nate Tawney who is the Department of Transportation general counsel, Lorrie Hodges, who is the head of West Virginia legislative affairs, been with the department for many years and we’ve worked together, and also Melissa Decker from the governor’s office. So thank you all for being here with us.

“And we did learn today because we a little meeting before that this is the first West Virginia Secretary of Transportation to testify before our committee. So we're very happy to have that historic occasion.

“It’s been a year since the president signed the IIJA into law.

“We promised the American people the IIJA would deliver results by improving and expanding our nation’s core infrastructure, an investment we all agreed was long overdue.

“This historic legislation proves that we can come together to develop legislation that tackles our nation’s pressing challenges in a bipartisan manner. 

“And I am proud of what we did on this committee. The foundation was this committee’s bipartisan [products]: the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act and the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021. Both of those. We had unanimous votes coming out of this committee.

“This committee now has the responsibility, I think, of ensuring proper implementation of the IIJA.

“The witnesses here today are direct recipients of IIJA funding, which means they are perfectly positioned to give us a status update.

“The timing of this conversation is particularly appropriate given that just last week we had a hearing to consider the president’s nominee to be administrator of the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration), Shailen Bhatt, which many of you know because he was a former DOT administrator in two states, actually.

“I know the staff at the FHWA have been working hard to implement the IJJA, standing up new programs, getting funding out the door, but it’s taken a long time before we could get that nomination up to us. And I’m with you, I hope we move forward on that.

“I have seen policies from FHWA that contradict the IIJA statutory text. I talked to Secretary Buttigieg about this just yesterday. I have been told the agency is neglecting to implement certain provisions of the bill, mainly the project delivery sections.

“FHWA began to deviate from the law with the release of the December 16th FHWA memorandum to staff, ‘Policy on Using the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Resources to Build a Better America.’

“This memorandum encourages [recipients] of highway funding to ‘flex’ that funding to transit investments, discourages states from moving forward with projects that add highway capacity, and imposes a one-size-fits-all [approach] by discouraging transferring program funds to where they are needed most, which was a flexibility that was intentionally built into the law, it’s long-standing, to ensure each state’s unique needs are met. Our needs in North Dakota and West Virginia are much different than what you need in Arizona or California or other places.

“Following the memorandum, FWHA released programmatic guidance documents for the core highway formula programs that included the same policy directives represented in the memorandum.

“Beyond contradicting the law, these guidance documents have created confusion among states and the FHWA division offices, and are leading to inconsistent implementation.

“The IIJA provided provisions to address climate change, as the chairman said, historically a climate change dedication in the bill, and the resiliency of transportation infrastructure, and we did this in a bipartisan way.

“A greenhouse emissions performance measure was debated and ultimately left out of the bipartisan IIJA.

“The Biden administration decided the law didn’t go far enough and proposed a rule to impose greenhouse gas emissions performance measures and associated targets on state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations without any authority from this Congress.

“All of these actions follow a common theme at FHWA, which is implementing partisan policy priorities they wish had been included in the IIJA, and doing so ahead of implementing many of the provisions that are actually in the legislation.

“The FHWA staff has done all of this without the accountability of having a Senate-confirmed administrator, which hopefully we’re going to solve that.

“I had questions for Mr. Bhatt on many issues last week, they are pressing for us to be able to conduct our oversight activities.

“With that in mind, we’ll look for our witnesses to tell us what programs and policies of the IIJA are most beneficial in addressing the unique challenges in your state, community, and member states?

“What is going well regarding [implementation]?...it's a little bit easier to say everything that isn't going well. We need to hear the things that are going well because that's just as important.

“I am interested in how the construction landscape is impacting transportation projects, supply chain obviously is a big issue, materials costs, staffing shortages, Buy America policies have also come up.

“The IIJA included unprecedented funding to address the needs of our nation’s core transportation infrastructure. Proper implementation of the law is the only way to ensure this funding will uphold the promises that were made to the American people with its passage.

“Thank you again for being here. This is important and timely. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

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