Fresh Air

Hanshaw has chance to make big chances

West Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw seems to be the proverbial breath of fresh air in legislative leadership. He has put some new faces in charge of committees and wants to put additional emphasis on developing technology in our state.

Let us not forget the old challenges, however.

Hanshaw, R-Clay, has been in office for just a few weeks. He replaces former Speaker Tim Armstead, who moved on to the state Supreme Court.

Last week, Hanshaw announced he wants to alter the House Committee on Roads and Transportation. He thinks it ought to become a Technology and Infrastructure Committee.

With all due respect to Hanshaw — and to the lawmakers who often do not get the credit they deserve for hard, good work on committees — that may be a mistake. Human beings can get only so much done before the quality of their work suffers.

Added emphasis on technology certainly is needed, and not just for the obvious reason that West Virginia needs more accessibility to broadband internet service. Estimates of the problem vary, but one is that 27 percent of the state’s residents are not served adequately.

Changing that ought to be more of a priority in Charleston. So, given the enormous waste of taxpayers’ money in previous technology-related initiatives, should be oversight of agencies working on the problem.

But we need more than an improved electronic highway. We need better ones made of concrete and asphalt, too.

Many of West Virginia’s roads and bridges are in deplorable condition. According to one study last year, 19 percent of the 38,770 miles of public highways in the state are in deplorable condition. Getting them back in good shape and keeping them there would require between $600 million and $1 billion a year in new revenue, depending on whose estimate you accept.

Gov. Jim Justice’s highly touted “Roads to Prosperity” program will help — but not much, as it is focused heavily on new roads, not repairing existing ones.

So we have enormous needs both for better roads and improved technology. Handling both may be more than one committee can do adequately.

Perhaps, then, Hanshaw should think about retaining the existing Roads and Transportation Committee and creating an entirely new panel for technology. Both endeavors are worth the effort.