KDOT secretary looking for path out of Kansas’ transportation industry labor shortage

Secretary Reed illustrates workforce gap by pointing to lack of land surveyors

By: - August 1, 2023 1:55 pm
Calvin Reed, the Kansas governor's nominee for secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation, said Kansas needed to address shortages in the transportation industry, starting with producing more land surveyors.

Calvin Reed, the Kansas governor’s nominee for secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation, said Kansas needed to address shortages in the transportation industry, starting with producing more land surveyors. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature video)

TOPEKA — Kansas Department of Transportation secretary Calvin Reed pointed to workforce shortages as a significant challenge to the state’s multibillion-dollar, 10-year Eisenhower transportation program.

Reed, nominated by Gov. Laura Kelly and endorsed by the Republican-led Senate Confirmation Oversight Committee, said an aging workforce in core areas of the industry were fundamental problems that government and private-sector employers had to address.

Reed highlighted one of those worrisome gaps, especially prominent in western Kansas, between demand and supply of professional land surveyors. Among the state’s nearly 3 million residents, only 258 are licensed land surveyors. The average age of this cadre of people responsible for defining boundaries of real property was 59.8 years, he said.

“That’s something that we rely on very heavily in our agency,” Reed said. “There is a real structural issue here that I consider to be a threat to us being able to deliver, not just this program, but the next program.”

He said a collaborative effort among state government, industry, and colleges and universities was necessary to create a sustainable system to train more surveyors. The state’s lone educational program for licensed surveyors was at Kansas City, Kansas Community College, which sits more than 400 miles from the Colorado border.

“We have a real drought of surveyors west of Salina,” the secretary said. “I think there needs to be a discussion about how do we push the model that’s being done at Kansas City, Kansas, Community College further west. I want to be an active part of that conversation.”


Other poignant needs

Senate Majority Leader Larry Alley, a Winfield Republican supporting Reed’s nomination, said the Kansas Board of Regents as well as the state’s community colleges should be receptive to addressing the lack of surveyors.

He also expressed appreciation to Reed for personally taking part in the KDOT response to concern among residents in Comanche County about the safety of concrete bridge guardrails on Kansas Highway 1. Unlike modern barriers that collapsed upon impact, the older concrete structures provided little flexibility in crashes.

The issue was given fresh urgency in December 2021 when Britney Marie Turley, 20, of Coldwater died when the Dodge truck she was driving struck a concrete bridge barrier on Kansas 1.

“Several fatalities on that bridge,” said Alley, with a Senate district stretching into Comanche County. “When it was reported, we asked for somebody to do something about it and I understand you were the one they sent out. I want to say thank you for doing that.”

Reed said Turley’s death brought greater scrutiny at KDOT to the structure and engineering of bridge barriers. A statewide survey identified 68 bridges in the state highway system with similar characteristics to the barrier in Comanche County.

“It really hits home any time I see a fatality that involves any of our young folks in the state of Kansas,” Reed said. “It gave us an opportunity to programmatically look at our entire state and make sure that we’re addressing this issue statewide.”


‘Obvious choice’

Reed, raised on a farm near in Osage County, was named acting KDOT secretary in December. He earned degrees in civil engineering at Kansas State University. In 2002, he was hired by KDOT to work in the bridge design unit. He recently was director of the agency’s engineering and design division. He also spent four years at Professional Engineering Consultants in Wichita between stints at KDOT.

“Calvin Reed has long worked to ensure Kansas families and travelers can travel throughout the state safely and efficiently, making him an obvious choice to lead the agency,” Kelly said.

He still faces a confirmation vote by the full Kansas Senate during the 2024 legislative session, but bipartisan endorsement by the committee typically allowed nominees to move more easily through the process.

Reed would replace Julie Lorenz, who led KDOT from 2019 until December. Lorenz oversaw creation with the Legislature of the Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program. There are more than 1,000 transportation infrastructure projects in motion across the state.

In the 2023 fiscal year ending in June, KDOT issued $1.4 billion in preservation, modernization and expansion projects. That total was three times what was let in the 2019 fiscal year.

“What I am most passionate about is sustainable preservation — making sure we are taking care of what we have by making decisions now that minimize long term costs,” Reed said. “Kansas has long been regarded as having some of he best roads in the country and preservation of our existing highway system is a top priority.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.