When Joe Kunkel takes the occasional drive down S. John Young Parkway today, his mind may happily wander into 40 feet of muck.
Design for the massive extension of that thoroughfare between Interstate 4 and Sand Lake Road, a five-year project rife with environmental challenges, was Kunkel's first big assignment when he joined Orange County's Highway Construction division as a staff engineer in 1986.
It's also still his most memorable project when reflecting on 31.5 years as an engineer, manager and deputy director with Orange County's Public Works Department.
"We found segments of that (John Young Parkway) extension with muck 40 feet deep, and had to work closely with geotechnical engineers to overcome it," he told GrowthSpotter on Friday. "We worked with permitting to get a DNR permit through the water management district and Army Corps, so many challenges. But it was really that first project that exposed me to every aspect of the job."
County staff and veterans from the real estate development world gathered Friday to celebrate Kunkel's retirement from local government. On Monday he'll enter the private sector, joining DRMP, Inc. as a senior project manager.
Few local real estate professionals can say they've had a direct hand in nearly every square mile of growth that has occurred in Orange County over the past three decades.
But Kunkel's day-to-day effort as a transportation engineer and manager, work he "always tried to make fun," has resulted in that level of impact.
He oversaw for a time the county Engineering Division's $70 million Capital Improvement Program that includes design and right-of-way acquisition for roadway projects big and small, new bridges and sidewalks. He led development of the Invest in Orange County - Roadway Program.
For the past decade he held a seat on the Development Review Committee and Roadway Agreement Committee, and was the county engineer responsible for policy and code determinations for existing and future development.
"Joe's an engineer's engineer, a man of high integrity who always wants to do the right thing, and get it right now matter how much time it takes," said Steven Kreidt, principal and manager with KCG.
Mark Massaro, public works director, called Kunkel's leadership at Orange County "second to none."
"Joe's ability to comprehend a very complex issue and reduce it to simple, explainable terms is remarkable," he said. "His experiences and wealth of knowledge cannot be easily replaced."
Sam Sebaali, president of Florida Engineering Group, described Kunkel as pragmatic in his approach to complicated development issues and regulations.
"Joe always came up with creative ways to protect the public interest and ensure compliance with regulations, without creating undue hardship to development," he said.
Bill Baxter, former Orange County public works director who also spent time in the private sector, jokingly cautioned Kunkel on Friday about the trade-offs of leaving a government job.
"In consulting there's no 40-hour work week."
If Kunkel ever needs help remembering his impact on Orange County's transportation infrastructure from the confines of a private sector office, he can look to a glass jar that will likely be within view.
County staff presented it Friday as a parting gift, filled with a core sample of S. John Young Parkway asphalt.