“While he will be sorely missed, Joel’s contributions will have a lasting effect on the profession and geometric design practice.”- Nagui Rouphail, Senior Principal Engineer
Joel Leisch, an esteemed transportation engineer, passed away unexpectedly on June 30th, 2022, at 81 years old. Joel was a teaming partner, close friend, and mentor to many at Kittelson.
While it’s impossible to summarize his many years of work, it should be noted that Joel was the leading expert on interchange design in the U.S. and several other countries; he planned and designed nearly 2,000 miles of roadways and 900 interchanges throughout the world; he helped develop the national transportation system in Israel; and he imparted his knowledge on many others by teaching professional development courses in the U.S., Canada, and numerous other countries.
Joel was an active member of the profession up until his passing, which included recent work with Kittelson.
Our relationship with Joel goes back to 1972. Joel and Wayne Kittelson worked together for many years, even after Wayne founded Kittelson & Associates in 1985. They formalized their relationship in 1994 by establishing a brand called the Kittelson-Leisch Transportation Group.
“An incredible number of benefits have come to us because of that relationship even though the brand was retired after about five years,” said Wayne. “Joel made us much more competitive in markets we were serving at the time because his mere presence and reputation distinguished us from others, enhanced the value we could provide, and broadened the range of capabilities we could offer.”
Joel’s connection with Kittelson made our firm more attractive to clients and expanded our geographic visibility to international relationships in Israel, Africa, and Europe. Of equal importance was his mentorship of so many of our staff that set them, as well as the firm, on the path to growing our professional design capabilities into what they are today.
“Joel was a living link to the early days of this profession. He could make sense of the most complex interchange and understand how to improve it at a glance.”- Pete Jenior, Associate Engineer
His knowledge and creativity in the areas of interchange design and transportation system functional design are “simply unmatched,” according to Wayne. Kittelson staff have many stories of Joel’s impressive ability to see complex problems and develop solutions in a short amount of time.
“I will forever remember how he developed a concept for the Lower Boones/I-5 Interchange in a few hours. We struggled for weeks trying to figure out a workable solution. The final design and what was constructed were virtually identical to the concept he developed in that short period of time. Truly amazing,” said Mark Vandehey. “Joel was an icon in our profession and had an amazing talent for simplifying the most complex transportation issues.”
“When I think of Joel, I think of the word ‘teacher.’ It was a unique privilege to be able to learn from him and, later in my career, to teach alongside him.”- Lee Rodegerdts, Principal Engineer
Joel was a philosopher and professor of the principles that guide systems planning and facility design. He was an excellent teacher and mentor of these principles, as well as the art, science, and technical practice that developed around them.
He was a remarkable communicator, capable of shaping his message to meet the needs of the audience and the circumstance.
“Joel would ‘hold court’ with us in many different settings. Almost always in a white button-down, and neatly pressed shirt, you could find him at one of our worktables, teaching us both the how and the why of problem-solving in the context of systems, networks, and facilities (often with his sleeves literally rolled up),” said Phill Worth.
He was known for his one-on-ones with staff at every level and for getting up in front of groups to demonstrate how the fundamentals of our shared work followed core planning and design principles and produced sound design solutions.
“Brief reflections remind me of where we've come from and how others have helped us along the way. Joel modeled many qualities that are worthy of emulating. That emulation is how we honor and carry on Joel’s work and the principles that he lived by in how he worked with others.”- Phill Worth, Principal Planner
Joel’s legacy and contributions will certainly have a lasting effect on the profession and his many colleagues, mentees, students, and friends.
His family is encouraging donations to the Jack E. Leisch Memorial National Graduate Fellowship, a memorial set up by Joel to honor the work of his father, Jack. The Fellowship is awarded to one outstanding transportation engineering student every year, and donations can be made in Joel’s name to the Fellowship Committee. A number of Kittelson staff, including Shannon Warchol, Pete Jenior, and Jamie Markosian have received and benefited from this Fellowship in the past.
“Our profession has lost another great one, but fortunately Joel was a great mentor and has many Leisch disciples to carry on the Leisch legacy.”- Mark Vandehey, Senior Principal Engineer