A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 66

Day 66

Culvert Lining Project

It looks like our issue with the culvert lining project has been resolved. We gave the structural drawings from our consultant to the contractor. Theh contractor ended up getting a couple prices from other concrete contractors which were lower than the original subcontractor's price. So it looks like we will end up getting the work we needed done at the price that was bid. It rained today so the contractor did not work, but he should be back out tomorrow to form the head walls.

Road Project

We've started on the plans for next year's road project. Today, I worked on adding a few more roads, My supervisor had said we could try increasing the amount we normally spend since we are not keeping up with the failure rate. Of course, all this will be subject to the approval of the council. We are just going to suggest this amount. We did get a little extra in MFT funds this year so that amount could be applied to this project.

The PACE sidewalk project

Today I tried to get a copy of the bid tab for the PACE project I discussed yesterday. The person I emailed said I had to submit a FOIA request to get it and that I had to ask how to do this by emailing their law department. Well, we have been through the FOIA drill here, and from we've been told, someone can ask for something on a dirty napkin, and that is an acceptable request to which you must respond. We can no longer require anyone to go through a formal process to get something. So because I did not hear back from the law department, I tried emailing their FOIA officer directly. He read the email but did not respond, so I'll have to see if they end up sending it or not. We did ask a local contractor who bids that type of work if they put in a bid, and they had not even been aware the project was out to bid.

Water Main Project

I met with the property owner of one of the parcels where we are asking for an easement for our water main. They said we could go ahead and submit the documents for their signature. I also worked a little more on the modeling but realized I needed the pump curve for our high service pumps at the water plant. So I arranged to have them sent over.

Tomorrow I am scheduled to be out of the office so won't be writing "A Day in the Life.." post for Friday.


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 4

Day 4

Safety Meeting

The Fire triangle created by Gustavb

Once a month the public works department holds a safety meeting for everyone in the department. Today's topic was fire safety. We learned about the fire triangle: oxygen, heat, and fuel. We also learned that there are four classes of fire:

Class A: Ordinary combustibles such as paper

Class B: Flammable liquids and gases

Class C: Electrical

Class D: Combustible metals

The key to prevention is to keep the three elements of a fire separated and to keep your work area organized and equipment in good working order. If a fire does start, we were taught the types of fire extinguishers that can be used. 

A Class A Extinguisher is typically filled with water and only should be used on Class A fires

A Class ABC Extinguisher is typically filled with a dry chemical and can only be used on Class A, B, or C fires

A Class D Extinguisher can have sodium carbonate and should only be used with Class D fires

Learning about fires was helpful, but last year they taught us to actually use the extinguishers. I liked that much more because it was more of a hands-on experience.



Later in the morning, several staff members met with someone asking about several potential developments. People interested in developing property or opening a business in a city eventually need to meet with city staff to discuss their project and learn what regulations or requirements can affect their project. At this stage plans are usually very preliminary, but if meetings like this don't take place, the developer can put a lot of time and money into a plan that might not work. So meeting before too much work is done is important and saves everyone a lot of time later in the process. 

I also received an inquiry from a real estate person who needed to know the general location of a private sewer service for a home that will be sold. Again, this is a common type of request received in an engineering office. I was able to look up the area on our sewer maps and found that the sewer service was shown. We discussed the location, and I was able to send the caller a copy of the map book page.

In the afternoon I arranged for a staff member to scan a set of plans for a subdivision in our city that has not been fully completed. Even though the majority of work has been done, the final surface on the roadway still needs to be placed. And from what I understood, the current owner is interested in trying to place this surface and complete the subdivision. But they needed the plan set to begin arranging to have the work done.

Miscellaneous Tasks

The rest of my day was spent on several miscellaneous tasks:

Organizing my email inbox (a never-ending job).

I arranged to have our interns review some of our signs that have become obsolete and develop a plan to either remove, replace, or relocate the signs.

I also worked with GIS to try to figure out why our web map on our Intranet stopped working. We tried creating a new one which worked. So we decided to just delete the old one and set up a replacement map.

Box Culvert

I arranged for a consultant to prepare a rough estimate of cost for stormwater management of the retention pond we've been researching.

And I met with an engineer from another consulting firm who had stopped by to drop off material about his company. 

Our staff spent some time discussing different issues related to our road project currently under construction.

Finally, I left early to attend a meeting of the education committee for our local APWA branch. We have a Bridge and Culvert seminar coming up on August 18th so if anyone reading this is located in the suburbs west of Chicago and interested in attending, you can head over to our website and sign up for the day.




Remote Controlled Culvert Cleaning


Mucker in OperationWith budgets tight throughout the country and any serious economic recovery years away, states and municipalities are turning to technology to increase efficiency and save money. One example of innovation in action is the Mucker (its actual name is the  Microtraxx Tunnel Mucker). The Mucker is used to excavate sediment from culverts and was created by the Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology Research Center at the University of California at Davis.
The Mucker is a remotely controlled mini front loader, about 4-feet in height and width, and about 9-feet in length. The remote control allows the operator to stand in a location safely removed from moving machinery and exhaust fumes. Box culverts greater than 4-feet in height and circular culverts greater than 5-feet in diameter are possible candidates to be cleaned by the Mucker.
Generally, culverts are cleared with the use of vacuum trucks involving human entry into the culvert and large quantities of water to flush the soil sediment. Vacuum trucks are constrained to roadway shoulders and cannot be driven off road, and their use is limited to location that can be reached by the truck’s hydraulic boom. High pressure water is used to loosen the soil sediment, much like the hydraulic mining technics of the past. However, unlike the old hydraulic mining, all of the water used including the sediment is vacuumed up by the truck. None of the sediment or water is left in the stream channel.
The footprint of the Mucker operation usually determines where the Mucker can be used. The Mucker requires a relatively flat surface to operate. Wet or muddied stream beds require a base prepared so that the Mucker does not sink into the mud. The Mucker pivots 360-degrees on its base, so it requires an area of less than 10-feet in diameter to swing around and dump its load. A backhoe is used outside of the channel to scope the sediment and place it in a waiting dump truck. In some operations, where work space allows, a full-sized front loader can be used instead of a backhoe.
The Mucker has proven to be more efficient at clearing culverts than using vacuum trucks. Initial operational tests results show the Mucker performing the same duties of a vacuum truck 4 times faster. In other words, what would have taken a vacuum truck 4 days to accomplish, took the Mucker only one day. The rate of excavation using the Mucker was about 5 –10 yd3 per hour, with the rate varying depending on the length of the culvert and terrain.
The Mucker was originally developed to clear culverts of sediment and debris more efficiently. Operational test show the goal of efficiency has been achieved. However, in addition to efficiencies, the safety of culvert cleaning operation has also been improved. The remote control feature of the Mucker allows the operator to stand in a safe location outside of the culvert during the operation which reduces the need for confined space procedures and ventilation machinery.
About the author: Manuel Morales has been working in the public sector since 1994. He has been involved in coordinating and creating culvert inspection programs since 2001. Manuel’s blog can be found at Culvert-Inspection.Com