In March 2010, while driving down I65 to a attend a project meeting, I saw a horrendous sight—a semi on the northbound shoulder, emergency vehicles, and burn marks on the adjacent rock wall. Earlier that day, the semi had crossed the median and struck a passenger van, claiming the lives of eleven people, including eight members of a single family. Passing the site again on the way home, I knew that the state would be inspired to act quickly. I pledged to myself that, if called upon to assist, I would do whatever I could to help make the corridor safer.
The Governor acted quickly, challenging us to deliver plans—within six months—for widening and improving the first of four unsafe sections of I-65. The corridor is 21 miles long, and includes a barrier wall to prevent median crossover accidents. Because of the needed environmental clearances and other obstacles, folks said, “It can’t be done.” Yet we did it. It remains one of the proudest accomplishments of my career.
Glen Kelly inspired me to become an engineer. Glen is not only one of the finest highway engineers in the history of Kentucky, he also happens to be my dad and President of Qk4. When I chose to join the same profession, I knew that I wanted to create my own identity and establish myself as a competent engineer without reliance on him to help advance my career. Therefore rather than pursuing the chance to work with him at Qk4 (then Presnell Associates), I went to work for a competitor, where by the mid-2000s I became the youngest owner. I left the firm to become an entrepreneur in the construction industry; however, that job only reinforced for me that my true calling would be as a design engineer.
Once I made the decision to return to highway engineering, I resolved to work for Qk4, because of how my father talked about what a tight-knit family Qk4 is, irrespective of our own bond as father and son. To a person, the people of Qk4 know each other’s families and what is going on in their lives—both the good and the less so, the joys and the heartbreaks. It truly is a second family.
It is doubly rewarding to be able to spend most workdays (and some weekends, too, truth be told) learning from and working with my dad.
Today, what I strive for is mastery of solving the “impossible” engineering challenges. At the same time, I also strive to help ease the burden on the state and local highways professionals who are continually asked to accomplish more with fewer resources. I can do that by eliminating needless worry and effort for them.
But that’s not what drives me. What drives me is the thought that what we do might help improve, and even save lives, such as the lives of those eleven people on the highway five years ago.