ROBERT PIERCE

     • Leader & Times

 

The Kansas Department of Transportation’s District Six office, which serves Southwest Kansas, picked up two new leaders recently along with some hardware.

Joel Valdez and Maurilio Coronado were hired as construction manager and senior engineer respectively, and both come with a great amount of experience in highway construction.

Born and raised in Las Cruces, N.M., Joel Valdez stayed in his hometown to earn his degree in civil engineering from New Mexico State University.

After leaving the Land of Enchantment, Valdez worked for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation for about three years before coming to work for KDOT in July 2022 as an engineering associate. He was promoted recently to construction manager for Area Two of District Six, which includes all or part of eight Southwest Kansas counties – Morton, Stanton, Grant, Stevens, Haskell, Seward, Gray and Meade.

Valdez will take over for Larry Meyer, who served as construction manager for both Area One and Two of District Six for six years, and Public Affairs Manager Yazmin Moreno said that makes the construction manager a welcome presence in Southwest Kansas.

“He’s been all over the place, and we’re happy we could get all of that workload off Larry’s shoulders, and he can go back to just Area One,” Moreno said. “We’re excited to welcome Joel and to have Joel in our team.”

Moreno added getting engineers in rural Kansas is a hard process.

“You don’t see it very often,” she said. “Counties and cities across this region and across the state have problems recruiting engineers. We’re pretty fortunate to be able to have Joel on our team.”

Maurilio Coronado, a senior engineer, comes to KDOT directly from Liberal, where he graduated from Liberal High School in 2017 before attending Seward County Community College. Moreno called Coronado a home-based engineer.

“It’s exciting to hear he’s coming back to his hometown and putting his degree into use for rural Kansas, especially in his hometown,” she said.

Coronado would go on to graduate from West Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering before starting as an engineer associate for KDOT in 2023. As with Valdez, Moreno said she is excited to have Coronado as part of the District Six team.

“A lot of our senior engineers are close to retirement, so it would be easier to transition our newer engineers into leadership roles as our leadership retires,” Moreno said. “We pretty excited to have not only one, but two engineers in Area Two to oversee these construction projects.”

Valdez will be in charge of all construction project in Area Two, and Coronado will inspect projects, with both overseeing highway construction and contractors doing that construction.

“They make sure they’re doing their job correctly, using the right materials and techniques, making sure our highways are high quality construction,” Moreno said.

Moreno said Valdez’s father played a huge role in him wanting to go into construction.

“His dad worked around the industry as a construction worker, and he also drove a concrete mixer,” she said. “It sparked that interest in becoming a civil engineer and constructing highways.”

As for Coronado, Moreno said his father likewise had a huge impact and was the reason he wanted to go into civil engineering.

“He was determined to come back to Liberal and serve his community,” she said. “He’s happy he’s able to work in the public sector as an engineering associate in the Department of Transportation to help the community. He’s pretty proud of Liberal.”

Moreno said District Six continues to have staffing issues, and this creates much in the way of work for everyone.

“This area currently has around six inspectors, engineering technicians who help inspect projects,” she said. “It’s been hard hiring in other areas. Our folks from this area have to go help in different areas of Southwest Kansas, in Area Three and Area One. It’s a lot of work, and sometimes, it’s difficult with our staffing issues with all these projects.”

Area Two was recently awarded the Excellence in Paving Award from the American Concrete Pavement Association of Missouri and Kanss for work on the U.S. Highway 54 expansion projects completed last year. Moreno gave much of the credit for consultants and contractors on the projects.

“They were working hand in hand with both the contractors and consultants of this project to make this project possible,” she said. “We run into hiccups with every single construction project, but we worked together. We got the project done, and that’s all that matters. The American Concrete Pavement Association of Missouri and Kansas was able to see that, which is a huge accomplishment for this area office.”

Moreno said partnerships with contractors, consultants and KDOT itself to make sure high quality work was being done is what put Area Two at the top of the list for the award, which she said everyone was happy to receive.

“They were excited to receive this award and to have some type of award due to their hard work,” she said. “Those projects are pretty impactful to the community, and for the inspectors and the construction management who were involved, you feel accomplished when you see awards like that for projects you oversaw.”

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