A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 52

Day 52

Although I worked in the office for a few hours today mainly on correspondence and checking with our inspector and engineers to find out the status of some projects, most of my day was spent at our APWA Public Works Camp. This event is our second unconference session that we've hosted, and both have been a great success! Next year another branch is going to host one, and there's been some discussions of expanding it out. We had about 24 people attend and offer some great information and knowledge about many different aspects of public works. I tried to capture the highlights of the discussion using the Cover It Live tool. So if you want to read over the log, pop on over to the Public Works Camp Site!


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 51

Day 51

Could you tell it was a full moon this week? Because it was so obvious in our office! This has been a phenomena I would have never believed in had I never worked for a city. Every time you start to realize things are just a little over the top than normal, you only have to look at the lunar calendar to see why. I know it sounds crazy, but just ask any police officer. And my experience has been the engineering department is not usually spared dealing with the effects either.

Sidewalks need to be constructed through driveways


(Note: the photo at the left is not taken in our city and is only used to illustrate the subject matter.)

So today started with me questioning some work that was done yesterday at one of the developments currently under construction in our city. Last night I had driven by, and it's almost uncanny how after you work so long in this field, you can barely see something in the dark (or at least only lit by a full moon!) and know it is wrong. Of course, being an engineer, I hate to just trust my instincts totally so I always start out by fully researching the background. The situation involved the placement of sidewalk across a commercial driveway. Because of our requirements and because of ADA compliance, we require sidewalks to continue through driveways, and they must of course meet all the requirements of ADA and now PROWAG. This had been conveyed during the review. And yesterday I had verified with our inspector that he had told them the sidewalk needed to be carried across the drive.

Today I again spoke with our inspector to again verify he had reminded the contractor of this requirement, and he confirmed that yes, he had. Then a few minutes later he gave me and the review engineer a copy of a chain of emails where the contractor asked the developer's engineer, instead of asking the city, how to construct the sidewalk, driveway, and curb flanking the drive through the right of way. The developer's engineer had told the contractor not to carry the drive through so we took this as indication they were not planning to build it according to the plan we had.

We went to the site to check out the work I had seen last night and found that the curb flanking the proposed driveway had been poured, but the area where the sidewalk was to cross was not gapped, nor was the curb at that location at the required 2% slope – it was more like 5%. It also looked as if the curb was not even set at the elevations indicated on the plans. But our concern was the ADA compliance and the sidewalk. So the review engineer called the developer's engineer and later the contractor to indicate they would need to correct what was done to meet the necessary requirements. After a day of going back and forth discussing it, they concluded with an email indicating they would remove a section of curb on both sides so they could construct the sidewalk according to plan and meet the ADA requirements. 

Although we had some other issues flying around through the day, I think that one is representative enough as an example of what we sometimes deal with as developments are built. We have another one scheduled for construction in the near future so I am going to make sure I, along with the inspector, are there when they form it all up so we can be sure it is going in according to plan.

APWA Executive Committee Meeting

Today I was also invited to the Chicago Metro APWA executive committee meeting to talk about our chapter's possible use of social media. I had done something similar with National in early 2009 and also with our State chapter probably also in 2009. So I went anticipating a similar experience and brought similar materials and information. So unfortunately I went thinking I was sharing information about social media and how to best consider its use, but did not know they had already gone through this, and it appears decided they did not want to pursue it. So I think they believed I was there to defend its use rather than assist in understanding what it is and how to use it if they would choose to do so.

Oh well, one of the positives was that I did get to sit next to John Heinz (who told me I could share that on my blog – Hi John!) and I learned that the next time I am invited to assist an organization with social media, it might help to ask a few questions first about what they have done to date. If I had I might have found out about the previous discussions and that some were not exactly sold on the idea. The final positive outcome is that the president is very innovative and open minded and set up a committee to look into it more. And I get to be on that committee with some really cool people – yay! (And I'll be blaming this unexpected experience on the full moon too!)

Update to the above – just realized it's also very beneficial to understand just who exactly is in your audience!




A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 50

Day 50

Geneva Photos

Today was Wednesday so we had our engineering division staff meeting. Like our last staff meeting, it seemed there was quite a bit to discuss. Everyone shared the status of their projects and other tasks they have been working on. We have been on schedule with everything except for a few projects that have been delayed because agreements have not yet been reached with some property owners.

One of our projects that consists of adding a third deck to our existing commuter parking garage has been delayed because the RTA has been reviewing it for about 3 months now. We haven't heard anything, nor do we know why it is taking so long. Metra already performed their review, and we received their comments within a few weeks. So now we cannot start building before winter and will have to wait to bid it out. This means construction won't begin until next Spring. I guess that's $3.5 million dollars worth of work that is on the shelf instead of creating jobs and stimulating our economy! (Our garage is shown in the back and to the right in this photo.)

Failed storm sewer pipe

We took a field visit to a job site where our water department has been working on a "sinkhole." Usually these holes show up in pavement or yards because of some failure in the sewer system. In this case, it appears the concrete storm sewer pipe had settled allowing a pipe joint to open up on the bottom. So when water flowed through, sand from the area around the pipe would be lost. Our crew dug up the area, sealed the joint,and backfilled the hole. I wish I had taken a photo, but had not brought my camera.

Racoons don't fit in sewers!


We've already had problems with racoons in one sewer in town where two had become wedged and died. We finally discovered them when we received reports of the pipe not flowing properly. Well, today our water foreman was on scene with the crew to rescue a racoon who had wedged himself between the openings of an inlet curb frame. He managed to pull out the racoon, but the animal, being scared, tried to run right back in and wedged himself even worse. So the foreman tried again to pull him out by his tail. The crew videotaped it  – I wish I could have gotten a copy to show here! The second time he pulled him out, he pulled him far enough back so when he released him the racooon ran off under the truck. Wow! Not sure I would have tried to pull a racoon out of a sewer! (The photo, by Andrew Ratto, is not of the racoon we rescued, but illustrates that racoons love to hang out in sewers!)

Development Issues

I am still messing around with that review of a development where we discovered the water main had to be lowered. Today I had to send out an email asking for the engineer to document the changes he will be making. Later in the day, staff had some email discussions about other concept developments in the community so I participated in those.

Performance review and Goals and Objectives

Today, I also had my mid-year performance review. And I still need to hold the reviews for the rest of my staff. I also revised my goals and objectives 2nd quarter report and resubmitted it because the city administrator asked for all of us to submit them in a standard format.


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 48

Day 48

Although we did not have today off, many others in the community did including the schools. So I think quite a few people at work took the day off so it seemed a little more quiet than normal at work. I started out going through emails and preparing for several meetings I had scheduled throughout the day. 

Staff Development Meeting

This was our regular day for our staff development meeting. We discussed several issues that had gone through planning commission and city council such as a special use granted for our proposed parking lot and a change in our sign ordinance. We also discussed a few of the developments that had been submitted and talked about their status. A couple of our planners had attended a planning conference held here in the suburbs so they shared some of the information they learned at the sessions they attended.

GIS Team Meeting

Unfortunately I left the meeting early because we had a GIS team meeting scheduled. Only about half of our team could make the meeting, but we had a good discussion and shared many of the things we are working on in GIS. We also shared with everyone our problem last week with the password changing and disruption of the web application. We also talked about the address assignment document I had set up. I need to add a few things to it, then I am going to send it to the building department for their comments because they are the ones who will initiate the assignment. Some of the features we talked about were our building layer, our critical facility layer, and our fire hydrant layer.

Development Site Meeting – Precon

Water Distribution

The last meeting I had was with the contractor and engineer for a development that is close to being approved for construction – we expect to issue the letter this week. Fortunately another engineer from the office went with me because he caught something none of us had seen during the design and review of the plans. They are lowering the parkway significantly for the proposed driveway which I had not realized during the review. The reason this is important is our water main crosses the drive, and if they lower the parkway four feet, our water main will no longer have the five feet or more of cover we require due to frost. So they will have to lower our 12 inch water main for a distance of about 100 to 200 feet. At least it was caught now instead of after the contractor started working. And I guess that's why it's so important to have a meeting prior to construction.

City Council Meeting

Finally, tonight I attended the city council meeting because we were asking them to consider awarding our culvert lining project to the successful bidder. Most of the time this type of action would be fairly routine, but I wasn't sure this would be the case tonight because we had a bidder who had not submitted a complete bid, and his price had been lower than all the other bidders. Our attorney had advised us that the bid was not "good" so the next bidder ended up having the lowest, responsive bid. We did inform the company with the incomplete bid, but instead of accepting our decision, he wrote a letter to the mayor and council asking that they waive the requirement and award him the bid. Fortunately we have a great council that understands the process and implications of ignoring laws and requirements. So there wasn't even discussion on the matter – they went ahead and awarded as we had advised.


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 46

Day 46

Development Review

On a 1 to 10 scale of busy, I'd say today was about an 8. Most of my time seemed to be spent handling issues related to one of the developments I have been reviewing. This particular one has been a challenge because the design has changed throughout the review process. And all of us have worked hard to accommodate these changes without holding up the review. I've had my final approval letter ready since last week, but hadn't been able to send it because I kept hearing the plans were yet to be changed. Finally I was told there would be no more changes so I sent it off. But now, they are going to change the plans. So later this week, we will get the revisions and work on getting a review completed as fast as possible so a new final approval letter can be sent.

The whole thing reminded me of a discussion that took place in the Civil Engineering Central Group on LinkedIn where someone had asked: What is your most frustrating story about a government permitting process?  I imagine the person asking had probably only thought frustration would be on the applicant side. But of course, the reviewers end up just as frustrated sometimes as the applicant. In the end, there were 16 comments representing a good range of viewpoints from both sides. Because the group is closed, I can't really share much more than that. But if you are on LinkedIn, you can join the group and participate in discussions like this. It's helpful to talk about common challenges and read comments from people who have different experiences and beliefs.

Alley Project

Manchester Alley in Geneva IL

As I mentioned yesterday, the contractor placed about half of the concrete alley on our project. So today the project engineer and I visited the site to check it out.. The contractor was working today forming up the pavement for the last half of the alley. (The photo to the right shows the same contractor placing concrete on the east half of the alley last year.)

Sidewalk Project at City Building

A couple of us also met with other city staff about improving an entrance to one of our city buildings. There is a slight threshold at the door we were trying to eliminate. Although the work seems simple enough to do – remove and replace sidewalk – when you factor in all the restrictions and regulations, it becomes quite a complicated project. We needed to ensure we were meeting ADA and also make sure we didn't create any hazards with the new design. After talking about several solutions, it was decided that we would go back and draw up what we talked about so we can share this information with our supervisors. Then they can decide which alternative to implement.

Address Assignment

One of the issues that has come up at our GIS meetings is that we need to improve the manner in which we communicate address assignments. I have been trying to find sample forms used for this process from other agencies, but so far no luck. So today I started working on a draft form. I want to get something to pass out at our next GIS meeting so everyone can review it and offer comments.


I also took care of a few other minor tasks including helping someone determine the size and location of their water line. And I wanted to mention I will be taking off tomorrow to attend a parent-student day at the middle school. Which might make for another whole blog post!


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 44 and 45

Day 44

Hopefully today will be the last day I have to combine more than one day in a post – finally getting somewhat caught up. Today, I went through more emails. And I finished up the final approval letter for that development I worked on last Friday – it is for an industry in the city that is expanding. We had several meetings then throughout the day:

South Street Bike Trail

The county has been planning on building a bike trail underpass at one of the busiest roads we have in the city. Right now it is a four-land road with a 45 mph speed limit with plans to someday expand it to six lane. The number of cars is probably around almost 30,000 a day. So crossing it can be a challenge on a bike or as a pedestrian. In order to help get people across, the county is proposing this underpass. They have received funding for a portion of it from the state. So now, they are ready to move forward and finalize the design then go to construction. They told us today they are looking at building it in fiscal year 2013. We discussed some of the coordination needed between the city and the county to get the project done. They will be acquiring an easement from us, and we will be entering into an agreement. But the terms of all that still need to be worked out.

Utility Proposal

A utility has proposed an installation in our community that is unlike any other submittal we have yet received. So we met today to discuss the information. From my perspective, I had received an application for a right of way permit, but upon reviewing the plans I realized the proposed location is not within the right of way. So the application is not valid for this case.

Campbell Street Parking Lot

We also met to continue discussions about our plans to build a parking lot in our downtown area. We were mainly updating other staff members of the status. The city is still working out the easements with the adjoining owners that will be necessary to  finalize the design.

Concrete Construction

A couple of us also had to inspect a few areas throughout the city that are targeted for improvements. We are in the process of obtaining bids for a small amount of concrete repairs we want to finish up this Fall.


Day 45

Finally today! This morning I worked on a multitude of issues. I completed our mid-year goals and strategies report and sent it off to my supervisor. Then I made sure my forms were ready to conduct performance evaluations later this month. All of us also worked on writing up our monthly reports for all our projects.

We had a bid opening today for our culvert project. There were a few bidders and the project seemed to come in near the engineer's estimate so we will now prepare the information to take it to the council for approval. Before I mention anything else about this publicly, I am waiting for an official determination of the successful bidder.

And our contractor for our alley project finally was able to place half of the concrete pavement. After last week's rain, we have had to wait a few days for the base to dry out. But today, it was finally ready for the pour.

In the afternoon, we had a staff development review meeting to go over a small proposed development in the city. It's so helpful to have all of us get together at once and just discuss the project after we've had some time to look it over. Many people brought up good discussion points. So now the review engineer will incorporate the comments into his response and send it out later this month.