A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Days 68 & 69

Days 68 & 69

After spending most of the day yesterday in meetings, getting home late, then having to run out to attend a band concert, I decided just to wait until today and post both yesterday and today in one article. So here it is!


IDOT audit of ARRA project

IDOT was scheduled to be in this morning to audit my paperwork for the last ARRA project the city completed in 2010. They, along with the FHWA, have already looked everything over several times and have always been very helpful. They were scheduled to be here at 9 so I had made plans to be out of the office the rest of the day after 11 thinking two hours would be enough time, but they ended up not being able to get here until after 10:30. So I couldn't be here while they were going through everything. And because I am still waiting for the last authorization to be approved, I couldn't really finish all the paperwork, so they will have to come back anyway one more time. I guess at least this way, I can be here next time so in case they can't find the information they need in my records, I can find it for them.

APWA – Detention Pond Design

The rest of the day was spent attending a talk by the APWA about detention areas. Someone from a suburb in the Chicago area shared their experiences with building natural ponds. They said in the early 1990s a lot of mistakes were made in building these facilities, and now there's a lot of maintenance and performance issues. Many have just turned into a huge pile of weeds needing a lot of work. Their community has been systematically renovating the ponds to improve their functions. And she said they are working now to avoid any problems with new ponds that are proposed by developers.

She brought up a lot of interesting and helpful tips about pond design. One included making sure an ecologist checks the seed list. She said they have seed lists submitted that contain weeds and seeds for plants that do not grow well by seed.

APWA – Communications

The other meeting I had was with our chapter communication committee. We were set up at the last executive committee meeting to look into the communications of our chapter. This was our kick-off meeting where we looked at the big picture of what we were trying to accomplish and who we were targeting as an audience. Then we decided what methods and tools we were going to research. I have been creating a workbook for us to use in this effort. So when we are done, I will post a copy of the workbook on the site so anyone else can use it for similar efforts.


Lighting of our Parking Lot

We are still having issues with finding lights that meet the photometric requirements for our parking lot. The last vendor I was working with could not find a light, and like our consultant, did not want to alter our parking lot configuration to make it work. So I contacted one last vendor and asked if he could find a lighting scheme that worked even if it meant changing our parking layout. Hopefully he will be able to come up with something. If not, I don't think we'll be able to meet the lighting requirements for spill over.

Staff meeting

We also had our staff meeting today. Like we do at most, we discussed all our projects. And at the end we tried something new where we held a pre-design project meeting. At this meeting we discussed next year's road project and how we wanted to approach the plan development. We also set some tentative milestones and dates.

Subdivision meeting

Later in the afternoon we met with representatives of a subdivision that is going through a possible change in ownership. The subdivision was never completed, and we are trying to work to get the public improvements done.


There were a few other miscellaneous projects I worked on such as helping a resident complete documents to vacate a portion of the city alley. And I am still waiting to get that bid tab from PACE. It has been such a busy week, and tomorrow is also looking like its another full day!


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 64

Day 64

Culvert Lining Project

Today was somewhat of a continuation of the issues that started yesterday with our culvert project. Tomorrow I am meeting with the contractor and giving him the detailed structural design that we received today from our consultant. The contractor will have to determine if the work shown was what he anticipated when he bid the job. If not, he will tell us how much more he would charge us. Then if this is the case, we will need to review the increased amount and decide if we think that is a correct value. If not, and if we cannot reach an agreement, we will have to remove the concrete work from the contract. 

This is a good lesson in why it is so important to have a lot of detail in the plans. A misinterpretation of the plans by the contractor or a difference in interpretation from what was expected by the engineer can lead to problems like this during construction. It can also lead to higher bid prices if there had been some uncertaintly on the contractor's part about the work when he was determining his bid. It's frustrating for us because we are managing the construction, but had to rely on another engineer for the design and the plans. And I realize it's frustrating for the contractor. Now we have a real chance of having to delete the work from the contract because the plans/specs seemed to have caused a difference of opinion over what the work entailed, and we are not sure if we can come to some agreement on the cost.

Water modeling

I have been working on the design of a water main extension. Today I contacted one of the owners of a parcel over which we are asking for an easement. We arranged to meet later this week to look over the area. I also started working on running an analysis of the water system with this line in place so I can finish filling out the IEPA permit. Fortunately a model was built several years ago when the city built a new water treatment plant. And the consultant who built that shared the information with us. It was built with EPANET so I downloaded the program. In the past I've used a DOS -based program and WaterGems, but since the data is in the EPANET format, I will just try to figure  that software.

Miscellaneous & NaNoWriMo

We also drove a few more roads to determine their condition. Then at the end of the day, I attended an APWA education committee meeting. Today was also the beginning of NaNoWriMo. It's not really an engineering event, but I've always enjoyed writing so have tried to participate most years. And it's a great incentive for working on writing skills. I encourage anyone interested in writing to check it out!

NaNoWriMo Participant


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 63

Day 63 – Happy Halloween!

Halloween October 31

Culvert Lining Project

Today I spent the day mostly troubleshooting some problems. The concrete subcontractor for the culvert project was on site. From what I was told by the project engineer, there seemed to be some confusion over what was to be done for the concrete headwall replacement. In a way it didn't surprise us because we had been wondering about the work too. We  used a consultant to design the plans because of this structural component of the job. So we relied on their design for this work. However, we were surprised the plans showed little detail for this work. The consultant had provided a short special provision, but no drawing. Right before bidding, we added a detail on our own just because we thought the contractor would need some designation showing what was to be removed and replaced.

So today I called the consultant to ask if he would please explain to the contractor the structural design because as of today, the contractor had nothing to go on and was basically designing it as he formed it. And of course, we didn't think this was a good idea since he obviously was not a structural engineer nor was he performing any type of calculations. The consultant seemed to think the contractor should have designed the wall and submitted the design to us for approval. I didn't remember discussing this nor did I remember seeing this in the specs. And I did remember we had a cost set aside in the consultant's contract for structural design. And once the bid was approved, the consultant had billed the full amount for the project. So I imagined the structural work had been done.

Fortunately the consultant did send me a sketch by the end of the day showing the design, but unfortunately for some reason he had only designed and shown the headwall from about the midpoint of the pipe to the top. So I emailed him back to ask if he could please provide the design for the other half of the wall. Hopefully we will get the rest of the design tomorrow so the contractor can come back and finish the project.

After all that, we started wondering if we would have been better off designing the project in house and sending out just the structural part to a structural engineer. Then we could have more direct control over the design and would just be incorporating his design into the plans we develop. 

Public Works Meeting

We also had our public works monthly meeting with the superintendents. We couldn't spend as much time going over everything like we normally do because a few of them had a meeting following this one, and we spent most of the meeting dicussing finances with our finance director. He was invited so we could ask questions about the budget to help us better understand how to track and code our invoices.

I also learned at the meeting that the whole state of Illinois is now considered to be in quarantine for the EAB so we can transport Ash tree logs/branches anywhere in the state. From what I understand they cannot be taken across state lines.

In this meeting I also asked about fixing another problem we have noticed. It's a small hole developing in a pavement that was built a few years back. Although it looked like at first we had no utilities there, after checking the plans, it now looks like it could be at the location of where an old inlet was supposed to have been removed and abandoned. It was decided to dig it up and see why it is failing – although we are not sure yet, some reasons could be the contractor never did properly remove it, or he did and failed to properly compact the fill. It was a project inspected by a consultant so we have no records showing exactly what was done.

Parking Lot Project

Today we heard from the consultant we have designing the lighting for our parking lot. After trying a few different types of lights, he has not been able to find a light that meets the city's photometric requirements. At this point, the only thing I can think of doing is to ask a lighting vendor to pick something out. That's what I used to do where I worked before so I'm hoping tomorrow we can call a few and ask them to help figure out what lights will work best for our lot.

Utility Permit

Finally, I received a call at the end of the day from a business downtown because they were concerned that a utility company was installing an underground conduit on private property without permission. I had signed a permit for the utility to do the work which included running a line down a portion of the city's alley, then turning to run through the property of the customer asking for service. Because the utility is responsible for making sure they are on the right property, I told the person calling that I would contact the utility and let them know they need to make sure they are on the right property. And when I called, the permit coordinator told me his manager was already on his way to the site.




A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 61

Day 61

Balancing Budget Line Items

I finally completed the analysis of my budget and identified two line items that needed to have funds amended to agree with the actual expenditures. Fortunately there were amounts in related funds that I could amend to a lower amount so the overall change to my division's budget is zero. I'm also hoping that we get new software at some point so the whole process of monitoring the finances for our divisions is easier and more efficient.

Geneva Culvert Lining - Grouting 2011

Culvert Lining Project

We stopped out at our culvert lining project again today to check out the grouting operation. The crews created bulkheads at each end of the culvert. They had placed plastic pipes into the annular space through which they pumped grout. It took the whole day to pump a total of 18 cubic yards into the space. Next they will form up the headwalls and probably pour on Monday. The one photo shows the concrete truck discharging the grout to the pump and the line from the pump to the plastic pipe leading to the annular space. The other photo below is a close up of the grout line and the plastic piping leading into the annular space.

Geneva Culvert Lining - Grouting 2011

Prairie Green

Our city owns a large natural area called Prairie Green. It was purchased and developed through a bond several years ago after the citizens voted to pursue creating a green buffer at the city's west limits. Part of the area will eventually be a developed wetland – so far we only have a portion of the total wetland completed and are monitoring it. One of the issues we've been having is establishing the proper plant material because the area floods each Spring. So last week, our water department installed a culvert across a berm through the southern portion of the property. The plan is that this pipe will help drain the area that floods. Today the community development director, who is the project manager, and I visited the site to inspect the new culvert.

Miscellaneous work

I spent the rest of the day handling a lot of small, miscellaneous tasks such as checking out questions from developers, organizing my room and desk (it really needed it!), organizing email, helping our intern with measuring the proposed sidewalk/curb ramp work for next year's road project, and discussing with one of the street foremen what roads should be patched or paved next year. I also contacted our IT department to ask them to look at helping out one of my staff get their computer running better. For some reason it was taking forever to start up each morning. Fortunately it looks like they found the problem and were able to get it operating faster.


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 60

Day 60

Culvert Lining Project

Geneva Culvert Lining Project 2011

Today was the day the liner was delivered for our culvert lining project. The placement of it seemed to go well. The contractor will finish grouting the annular space tomorrow. A resident did stop by to tell us we didn't know what we were doing, and it would never work, and he would sue everyone when water backed up into his home. Of course, he had no  information to base his opinion on other than the new pipe is of a smaller diameter than the existing one. So the other staff members tried to explain the hydraulics and design information to give him an idea of why a smaller pipe can carry the same or more water, but he still didn't believe anyone. So he contacted the elected officials to express his concern. I let the engineer who designed the culvert project know about the complaint. 

It's unfortunate, but this seems to happen so much where a group of professionals put in a lot of time designing a project, and then someone stops by and tells everyone they are all wrong, and it will never work. And they never seem to have any facts or information to base their opinion on. 

I have to admit I have seen some poor designs in general executed over the past 30 years, however, none related to culvert sizing. And even those poor designs did not cause failures or damage – they were just not good designs and usually ended up impacting our operations and increasing our costs. So the city had to do more work to make the final product better and improve efficiency and cut costs. But I can't remember where there was property damage that could be attributed to bad design – maybe poor construction but not poor design.

Of course, the bottom line in a something like this is that anyone building or buying a home next to a creek increases their risk of having water entering their home during a storm. Particularly when openings like doors or windows are installed that allow for a way for water to enter the home. Culverts and other stormwater facilities are only designed to carry a certain storm intensity. If a storm occurs that is greater than the design storm, the culvert or other stormwater infrastructure will not convey all the water and could allow water to back up and enter nearby structures. So for our situation, whether we leave the old culvert or install a new one with equal or greater capacity, there will always be a risk that a storm occurs that will not be handled by the culvert and water could back up into homes – that is the risk of owning property next to a body of water.

Intersection Enhancements

We also met with a vendor who sells traffic control products. He did a great job showing us some alternatives for the intersection where we are trying to draw attention to a pedestrian crossing. One product we are particularly interested in is a sign and light called the "Enhancer." Here is the link to a site showing the product: http://www.statewidetrafficsafety.com/enhancer.asp.


We did manage to get our staff meeting in today. And I continued on trying to check our budget line items.




A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 56

Day 56

Water Main Project

This morning we finally found time to run out to look at the location of our proposed easement for the water main project I've been working on. Fortunately it looks like the location in the field where I had planned to take it through a local industry's property (if they are agreeable to this) matches well with the plans. The other location goes through a local park, and based on the field location, I think I will adjust it just a little to minimize some bends. Normally we would have had this surveyed at the start, but I was unable to get a survey done at the time so had to rely on the aerial for the initial placement. Now I can finalize the alignment, secure the easements (if the property owners agree), and send it to the IEPA for a permit!

Broken Field Tile?

Later in the morning, our community development director and I ran out to a large tract of land the city owns. The person who farms a portion of the land had reported some standing water so we wanted to investigate the area. It appears to us there could be a broken tile. But it also appears the broken tile might actually be on someone else's property. I still have to discuss this situation with the rest of the staff to determine what, if anything, we might need to do. I realize normally a farmer would repair the tile, but because the purpose of this land is to remain green space – not necessarily farm land, we didn't think this water was causing any issues at the moment.

Public Works Staff Meeting

Later we had our monthly public works staff meeting with all the managers. There was so much to talk about, our group barely had time to share updates on our engineering projects. One of the primary issues under discussion right now is the removal of the ash trees that have been damaged by the Emerald Ash Bore.

Stormwater Meeting

Finally, I represented the city at a regional meeting to discuss stormwater funding and regulations in our area. Our intern was here today so he came with me. Whenever we bring interns to our meetings like this, they come away surprised at how much time we spend on what appears to be non-technical issues. But in the end, I try to explain we need to understand and be part of the decisions regarding funding and regulations and laws in order to be able to properly plan, design, and build.