A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 29

Day 29

Automatic Meter Reading Research

For about a year we've been researching automatic meter read (AMR) systems. Because our neighboring communities to the north and south have also been going through this process, we decided to combine our efforts and collaborate on the research. So as a group we've met with several vendors over the course of the past year. Today we all got together to summarize our findings and to discuss where we go from here. We decided to call in one of the vendors to discuss a few of the options we thought about pursuing. Although I think the AMR technology is awesome and very much enjoy researching the options, what has really been rewarding has been the opportunity to work with the other cities on this project. Like my co-workers, the staff in these cities are very knowledgeable, professional, and great to work with.

Special Service Areas (SSA)

Later in the day a few of our staff met to continue the discussion about creating an SSA for a certain area in our community. Again, these SSAs help provide a funding vehicle for improving  a specific subdivision. Although we dont' always levy taxes in each SSA, it's still good to have it in place in case the neighborhood needs to have maintenance or work done within the common areas of their subdivision.

Permits and Development

One of the utilities in our area is still trying to get a line installed in our downtown area. They submitted a new plan showing where they want to install their line, but they showed no other utilities on the drawing. So I had to let them know I cannot really review it without knowing where the other utilities are. On Monday, I'll have to make a copy of our utility maps for that area and send them to the utility so they can add them to the drawings. I also worked a little bit with a development that has re-submitted plans for review. We are still waiting for them to resolve the location of the electric so I could not move forward with their approval this week. Hopefully it will be resolved next week so I can complete by review.



Low Hanging Fruit for Your Stimulus Basket

Ever since our city first became aware of the possibility of a federal stimulus package focusing on public works, we have been busy as bees finding “shovel-ready” projects to submit for funding. Because I realize efforts like ours are now going on all over the U.S., I thought it might be helpful to post some example projects local governments could submit that require minimal planning and design:

Purchase/produce and replace street signs throughout a community or region – everyone knows the federal government recently passed legislation that requires all of us to upgrade our street signs by a specific date to meet new reflectivity regulations. Although we do have several years in order to comply, this is an expensive and unfunded mandate, so why not use the monies from the stimulus package to purchase or produce and install your signs. This is a relatively easy project to put together for bidding. Local government can even take advantage of existing state joint purchasing programs and bid out only the installation. This idea puts to work all the suppliers and manufacturers who make sign materials as well as the laborers who will install the signs.

Purchase, install, and implement a water leak detection service – Over the last few years, companies have developed leak-detection technology that involves placing a small device on the “city-side” of a customer’s water service lines. The device listens to the sounds in the water mains and reports the possibility of water leaks back to the provider.

Leak Detection Report
Leak Detection Report - Green: No Leak, Red: Leak

Unfortunately for our city (from a funding view), we have already set up a system like this. But for those who have not, they would get started by simply contacting a company that provides this technology to get a proposed price. The actual work involves the set-up of a fixed network and installation of data recorders/transmitters. A leak detection project puts to work those who manufacture/supply the recorders/transmitters, electricians, and plumbers. In addition the end result of this project is the reduction of water loss.

Purchase and install a fixed-network metering project
– while you’re in the process of setting up a fixed network to read your leak detection units, why not think about installing either new meters (if needed) or a metering data collection system that reads meters on a 24/7 basis. Again, little planning and design. Simply contact the metering/fixed network companies and get your pricing in order. Like the leak detection system, this project puts to work the companies that manufacture/supply the units along with employing plumbers to install meters. Plus this system can also help decrease water loss.

The important thing to remember as we up together our lists is that not every worthwhile project has to involve significant engineering or even shovels to put people to work. If anyone has thought of any other easy-to-implement ideas, please post them in a comment and help your fellow, public works brethren. And if you don’t work for local government, think about passing along the ideas to your local officials. Remember in the end, it is about putting people all across America to work and improving our public works assets.


Inviting Utilities to the Public Works Feast

Public Utility Crew Setting a Pole
Public Utility Crew Setting a Pole

Yesterday, while our water crews were repairing a major water main break in our city, I spent some time talking with a guy from our local gas company. He had been sent to the site to watch out for the gas main that was located in the same trench. Our conversation made me realize that something important might be missing from President-elect Obama’s Public Works initiative: the impact this work will have on public utilities owned by non-government entities.

You can all relate to this. How many times does the gas/power/phone/cable have to move their lines or send out crews because we are constructing a project? And how many times do they beg you to let them know about work a year in advance so they can budget for it? And how many times do you wonder about building brand new pavement over gas/power/phone/cable lines that are ancient and prone to malfunction? Now imagine $700 billion worth of work being done in 12 to 18 months time with only a few months notice. You know public utilities have not budgeted for all the relocations and other work that will be necessary to construct $700 billion worth of improvements.

So what is the answer? The public works initiative is a great plan to get America back to work and at the same time rebuild our infrastructure. But we need to remember that public utilities have the potential to be severely impacted by this work. They need to be at the table with us as we move forward. If we don’t address their costs with this stimulus package, these extra costs could be passed onto consumers. Allowing them to access funds will ensure these projects will be done in a timely manner and will put even more people to work. For the public works initiative to be successful, I think we need to move over and get some more chairs.


The Personal Rapid Transit Revolution

Virtual MISTER Podcar
Virtual MISTER Podcar

As the world searches for an answer to reducing the use of fossil fuels, cities are starting to look to the personal rapid transit (PRT) system as a potential solution. Lately, MISTER, a Polish-based company, has gained increasing notice for their innovative PRT system. MISTER is an acronym for Metropolitan Individual System of Transportation on an Elevated Rail. The design consists of a group of small, light-weight vehicles or cabins that travel on an overhead truss rail and have externally powered electric motors integrated into the vehicle carriage assembly.

The MISTER system is reported to have an advantage over competitors because of the use of the light overhead truss system while other PRTs rely on guide rails and track systems. The overhead guide allows cars to climb at 45-degree angles while keeping the floor of the vehicle level. The steep inclines also reduce the area required on the ground for stops

The system is designed to carry up to 5 passengers who enter a PRT vehicle at designated stops and select their destination using an onboard computer. This programmed stop can also be changed during the trip by the passengers. Opole, a city in Poland, has allocated land for a test track for the MISTER system and is in the process of planning routes throughout the city.

MISTER is only one of many PRT systems in development. More information about PRT systems and other alternative transportation technologies can be found at the Innovative Transportation Technologies site hosted by the University of Washington.

For those interested in viewing and trying out a virtual, 3D representation of the MISTER system, you can visit the Second Life site of the UN Climate Change Conference by clicking here. (You will need a free Second Life account and avatar available at the Second Life Website.)


The Building Industry Meets Web 2.0 at Be2Camp

Be2Camp Logo
How can the building industry use Web 2.0 tools to enhance delivery of services and better integrate new concepts like sustainability? These are some of the questions and issues that will be discussed at the upcoming barcamp, Be2Camp, to be held at The Building Centre on Store Street in London on Oct. 10, 2008. This event will begin at 10 a.m. and will adhere to the delivery method of a traditional barcamp event.

The agenda continues to evolve, but to date those attending can look forward to hearing about topics such as Web 2.0 technologies, collaboration through document management, use of open souce or public data, use of charrettes, peer production, virtual worlds, green technologies, and post occupancy evaluations. Other proposed topics include the use of voice over IP services such as Skype, carbon footprints, cloud computing, discussion of BIMstorm, social networks, and podcasts. A Pecha Kucha session will take place after the close of the barcamp.

As usual, the pace and organization of these events evolve over time even changing throughout the actual day of the event. The focused and fast-paced delivery has become one of the more attractive components of this type of conference. Those working in the building industry who may have an interest in attending are encouraged to visit the Be2Camp network site, sign up as members, look through the agenda, and register to attend for free. Anyone who may want to volunteer to speak can also sign up at this network site.

BIW Technologies, EMS Ltd., and The Building Centre are the designated sponsors to date – other companies or suppliers to the industry can sign up for sponsorships by e-mailing Martin Brown, one of the Be2Camp organizers.