Kevin McLain: Running things at ground level

Kevin McLain, in the soils sample lab at the Missouri Department of Transportation, is the geotechnical director for the state agency.

Kevin McLain, in the soils sample lab at the Missouri Department of Transportation, is the geotechnical director for the state agency. Photo by Julie Smith.

As director of the Missouri Department of Transportation’s geo-technical section, Kevin McLain oversees a team that helps answer the geology and soil science questions asked by other department engineers.

McLain has served as director for a little more than one month, but he’s worked for MoDOT for several years. Although his first job was as a structural designer of bridges, since 1991 he has held several titles in the geotechnical section, which is a part of MoDOT’s construction and materials division.

McLain is a 1988 graduate of Kansas State University, where he earned a bachelor’s of science in civil engineering, with a specialty in geology. He is both a professional engineer and registered geologist. He also has a master’s degree in construction engineering and project management, and he’s working on his doctorate in the same field.

“My weekends are basically spent doing a lot of studying,” he said.

Today, his daily work is less about the science and more about managing personnel and resources. “It’s more about getting the job done the best way we can do it,” he said. “It’s about the team.”

McLain said he knew the geotechnical section — it used to be called soils and geology — was the right place for him because it offered the opportunity for field work.

“I really enjoyed that, spending time with the drilling staff,” he said.

Once soil samples are collected and tests are concluded, the team writes reports with advice for how to make slopes safer, how to build or repair bridge foundations, how to shore up retaining wall foundations and how to deal with underground cavities and sinkholes, to name a few common tasks. The team addresses a variety of geology challenges all over the state, from finding solutions for karst topography in the Springfield/Joplin area to dealing with seismic issues in the Bootheel.

“We make sure that projects that have already been built — or are being built — continue to be safe to drive on, and safe for the construction workers, too,” he said.

He said safety is a key priority for MoDOT’s staff.

“It’s job No. 1. The mantra ‘We all go home safe’ is something we try to live by,” he said.

In his free time, McLain enjoys fishing for bluegill, crappie and bass in Missouri’s rivers and streams, but he also enjoys returning home to fish in Tuttle Creek, near his parent’s place in Manhattan, Kan.

His father is a former U.S. Army officer, and McLain grew up in places such as Japan and Germany, as well as at U.S. bases stateside.

He is married to Ellen McLain, who works for the University of Missouri’s alumni development office.

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