Largest of the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s seven agencies, the Division of Highways has more than 4,800 employees in its capitol complex headquarters, 10 district offices statewide, and 140 maintenance sites. The DOH is responsible for planning, engineering, right-of-way acquisition, construction, maintenance, regulating traffic, and administering funds for more than 6,800 bridges and more than 35,000 miles of state highways and other roads. It also participates in highway research and administers nontraditional transportation enhancement programs such as scenic byways, backways, and recreation trails.
The Division of Highways traces its roots to the early automotive age, as West Virginia worked to build a modern road system. The legislature in 1909 established the State Road Fund and the position of state commissioner of public roads, along with county road engineers, only to abolish the fund and state commissioner’s position two years later. The 1913 legislature created the State Road Bureau. That was replaced with the State Road Commission by the 1917 legislature, which also agreed to match federal road funds and to maintain roads constructed with federal aid.
The 1920 Good Roads Amendment to the state constitution authorized the legislature to pass a law providing for designation, construction, and maintenance of a state road system and the appointment by the governor of a three-man State Road Commission to carry out the statute. Under its first chairman, Maj. C. P. Fortney, the State Road Commission designated, surveyed, and numbered a system of roads and adopted a uniform sign system. The 1932 legislature abolished the State Bridge Commission created by the 1929 legislature and transferred all responsibilities to the State Road Commission, now a four-man advisory board under a commissioner, Ernest L. Bailey. The number of districts was expanded from five to ten. The 1930s brought a ‘‘privilege tax’’ on vehicle sales, to be used to match federal aid funds, as well as the issuance of truck permits, use of weigh crews and automatic traffic recorders, listing of prequalified bidders, and the reassignment of buses and taxis to Public Service Commission jurisdiction.
State highway programs slowed by World War II received a boost in 1949 with the passage of a secondary road bond. A national study of transportation needs led to the creation in 1956 of both the interstate highway system and the federal Highway Trust Fund. In 1970, the State Road Commission was renamed the Department of Highways. It reached maximum employment of some 10,000 workers during that decade, as new road bonds and the leadership of Commissioner W. S. Ritchie Jr. spurred construction that resulted in the completion in 1988 of the state’s original interstate system and significant progress on its 424-mile Appalachian Development Highway system.
Receiving its present name when the 1989 legislature created the Department of Transportation, the West Virginia Division of Highways is now a billion-dollar organization. The Division of Highways is headed by Commissioner Paul Mattox, who was appointed by Governor Joe Manchin in 2005. Mattox, an engineer, had worked for the agency early in his career.
This Article was written by Carol Melling
Last Revised on August 17, 2012