A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 16

Day 16

Back to work after a weekend of working on a presentation I'm giving in September at the Illinois Association of Highway Engineers conference in Normal, Ill. I'm really looking forward to the event, and if anyone reading this is going make sure to say hi at the conference!

Development Meeting

So today was our Development Staff Meeting. As usual we meet every other Monday morning with other department staff to discuss developments and related issues going on in the city. Today we discussed a few developments that range from those with initial inquiries to others that are almost finishing construction. We also talked about a few potential amendments to zoning districts and sign ordinances.

School Zones

Because one of our interns is now gone, I worked a little bit with our remaining intern to finish up our study of school zones in our city. We discussed the work they had done. Then we drove through all the school zones so I could get a better idea of where exactly the signs are placed and so I could review their recommendations. Next I plan to meet with the police department to discuss the zones, and then we'll present our recommendations to the council for amending the current ordinance.

Water Main Installation

Water Main Revisions

We also had a question come up with one of our developments. They found during construction that their water service line, which is planned to be 6 inches in diameter, will not have enough cover once they finish grading for their parking lot. (Normally we like to have about 5 or 5.5 feet of cover at least to ensure water lines will not freeze in the winter – this depth changes depending on where you are in the US.) So the engineer for the owner called to see if they could change the design to try to lower the line. There was some back and forth discussion, but because it was not something easily resolved through email and phone calls, we decided to meet on site. I went along with the engineer who reviewed the plans who was handling approval of this change and with our water and sewer superintendent. After seeing it out in the field and meeting with their engineer and contractor, we all decided on a different solution. They will shut down the water main in the block where they are connecting and will remove the existing service valve, then immediately dive the pipe down to get their cover, and then move the valve further into the site. The photo on the left isn't of this site, but it does show what the new valve will probably look like.

Development Review

Throughout the day I reviewed a resubmittal of the plans for a proposed development. There were only a couple items left to be addressed, but I can't send off the comments until I get the water and sewer fees calculated. And we can't complete the calculation of the fee until they tell us the size of the meter. Hopefully we'll get that this week, and then I can send this off.

Where did our Files Go?!

We even had an incident today where somehow one of our folders accidently had gotten taken out of the top level directory of our server and put into another folder. So no one could find the information they needed that had been in there. Because we don't have administrator access to bring folders back up to the top level, I ended up contacting IT, and they moved it back for us. But I am hoping they can make it so it can't be moved in the future. It's a good lesson to be careful when you're in a shared directory so that you don't accidently move folders into other folders without realizing it.



A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 6

Day 6

Staff Development Meeting

This morning we had our staff development meeting where all representatives of all departments meet to discuss active developments in our city. Today we talked about several proposed and on-going prospects along with some discussion of proposed changes to regulations. One of these issues related to the creation and management of historic districts will be further discussed tonight at the council meeting. For those who are interested, here is the link to our live meetings that begin at 7 pm CST: http://www.geneva.il.us/channel10.htm

Southeast Plan

Last year, the city applied for and secured a grant to study a large undeveloped area lying southeast of our city. This area currently lies outside of our corporate limits. But based on existing boundary agreements most of it will annex to our city should owners decide to pursue annexation at some point. We are about half-way through studying and preparing the plan. Today we met to further discuss access and transportation elements.

Permits and Bonds and Insurance Claims

I had several calls and emails today related to permits and bonds required for the work. One was the followup from last week. Another was a claim we received for alleged damage to a vehicle on one of our road projects which I passed along to our contractor. I also prepared a review letter with comments for a development asking to install an improvement along their parking lot.

Other Miscellaneous Tasks

The other part of my day was spent preparing the property owner information for the block where we plan to construct a new parking lot. Our interns had done most of the research work running down the current owners and copying the deeds. However, I needed to review them and put them on the map in the correct locations. Tomorrow I will finish this up so I can send it to the city attorney. He will then prepare the necessary documents for the areas where we need easements.

I also tried to get through more of my email but didn't make much of a dent. All together it sure seems like meetings and email take up a lot of everyone's day. The key is trying to find the time in between to get all the work done!



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.




U.S. Army Corps Revamps Permit Application Process

Those of you who navigate the U.S. Army Corp of Engineer's (USACE) permit application process might want to check out their new, online site designed to guide applicants through each step of filing a permit application. Visitors to the Website, located at http://www.usace.army.mil/CECW/Documents/avatar2/index.html, are greeted by an avatar who explains the site and offers advice for moving through each step. He encourages users to first watch a video that goes into more detail about how to apply for a permit using this interactive, online method.

USACE Permit Application SiteThe narrator in the video covers each section of the application and shows examples of how to fill out each piece of information. A transcript of the narrative can also be downloaded for further reference. After viewing the video, users can move on to filling out the permit application. A progress bar is provided to show how much is left to be done. The applicant can print out the application after all steps have been completed. 

Although I thought the new, online permit process was a great improvement, one other aspect of the site that impressed me were the sections titled "Why we are involved" and "FAQs." These sections give a  explanations of how the USACE is involved in this process, why the process exists, and other information an applicant is probably wondering about. I think this is very important because those of us who work for government sometimes get so used to all the rules and regulations that we end up taking this knowledge for granted. And then we forget that non-government employees are not going to just know the rules, the process, and the terms. So it is encouraging to see a government agency placing information on a site like this that explains why someone is going through the process.