MORGANTOWN — For nearly 31 years, West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) District 4 Engineer Donny Williams has made the state’s highways and byways his business.
Now he’s ready to travel a new road.
Williams, a Morgantown resident, recently announced he will retire from the DOH on Sept. 30.
“It’s been a really good ride, my career. I look back on it and I’ve really got to be part of so many things that have helped so many people. It’s enriched my career and provided wealth for my family. But I’m calling this a new chapter in my life,” Williams said. “I want to spend time on the things that are important to me locally, like my church, my family — my wife and daughter — but also my community.”
Williams took over District 4, comprised of Monongalia, Marion, Preston, Harrison, Taylor and Doddrige counties, in April 2017. By his own accounts he inherited a district suffering from a chronic lack of funding and communication.
Monongalia County Commission President Tom Bloom said the change in the county’s relationship with the DOH began almost instantly.
“He did things that were completely different that we’ve never had before. Then he would go down and fight for us to get more funds,” Bloom said. “I think this is a great loss to our community. He’s opened doors we’ve never had opened before for Monongalia County.”
In June, Williams told the North Central Caucus on Roads — a group formed largely of county commissioners and state legislators from within the district to address road conditions — that he would likely need double the district’s annual $30 million maintenance budget to maintain the 4,800 miles of roads to the DOH’s own standards.
“He lives here, so he knows what the problems are. He was very honest when he took over and realized we were not being treated as fairly as other areas. He admitted it. That was the first time we ever had anyone say, ‘OK, now how do we resolve it.’ ” Bloom said. “He didn’t always give us the answers we wanted and we didn’t always get what we wanted, but we knew he was there and he was fighting for us.”
Williams’ boss, Secretary of Transportation Tom Smith, said it is the willingness to get out in the community and build relationships that’s made Williams so effective, noting “The division of highways is better because of people like Donny.”
“One of the things that I like about him is he’s willing to go out to the people instead of sitting in his office. He does that in good times and he goes in tough times,” Smith told The Dominion Post. “He’s a great engineer and a great problem solver. He’s a real friend and I’m going to miss him.”
Williams names the Star City Bridge, the Robert H. Mollohan Jefferson Street Bridge (Fairmont) and the Mon-Fayette Expressway as a few of the memorable projects he’s worked on. He’s also proud of his part in replacing the “really archaic, horrible” facilities DOH employees were working in.
“The one thing I’ve enjoyed my whole career, whether with my employees or our community, I love to be part of something bigger than me that helps many,” he said. “I love helping my employees. I love helping the counties.”
Williams said he considers it an honor to work alongside Smith and the DOH management staff. He went on to say that his DOH brethren don’t know how much their efforts have meant to him.
“I’ve been so appreciative of the people I’ve worked with, from the truck driver to the engineer. We’ve really all worked hard together as a team,” Williams said. “That’s been something that I’ve appreciated so much. We all have equal importance, just different roles.”
He went on to offer the following advice to his eventual successor.
“It’s just really about being consistent. I’m big on that,” Williams said. “Stick to the plan. Be consistent. Be consistent in how you deal with people and do the most good you can for the most people at all times.”
Bloom said he hopes the DOH can find a replacement that will keep the positive momentum going.
“I want the public to know he’s always thinking two steps ahead,” Bloom said. “Unfortunately, it’s usually about 10 steps ahead of the people in Charleston. That’s why we like him.”
Follow The Dominion Post on Twitter @DominionPostWV. Email Ben Conley: firstname.lastname@example.org.