A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 3

Day 3

Staff Meeting

Today started off with a staff meeting for the engineering division. Normally in our meetings we discuss the status of projects and developments. Today we also discussed engineering policies for our division. Many of the other departments in the city are documenting the policies, processes, and work flows by which their department functions. So I thought it would be a good idea to develop this guidance for our division. We have started out with a working document that lists many but not all of the policies we already follow. Now we will incorporate the discussion points we brought up today and add some more of the policies suggested by the group. I think it was a good start and worth the time we took to review the document.

Frames and Grates for Road Project

I also worked on finalizing the frames and grates we will use for that one set of structures on our road project I mentioned in an earlier post. The idea is to replace the existing frames and grates with ones that better fit the structures. This will decrease the potential for failure of the pavement in the future. The sales person for EJIW did a great job picking out a frame and grate that would work. And once I verified it was what we wanted, I ordered them for the project.

Establishing Horizontal and Vertical Control Points

Setting Survey Marker 2011

Around lunch time, I spoke with and inspected the work we had arranged to have done to set a permanent horizontal and vertical control point on the property at public works. (The type of monument set is a Berntsen monument.) This is the culmination of much research related to how benchmarks should be handled. In the "old days" we would have ran a series of benchmark circuits and set up a network of benchmarks throughout the city. With GPS, the method of handling benchmarks is evolving to a different type of network. Instead agencies are setting up a small number of control points set to first-order precision. Then all work is performed using GPS units that reference back to these control points. We realize not everyone has the necessary GPS units, and our division does not yet have this equipment. But many companies do so we thought rather than waste money setting up a system that will be obsolete by the time it is done, it's better to spend less money setting up a more state-of-the-art system that will better support future practices. As for us, we decided we only need a benchmark referenced to USGS datum about once a year. So it's cheaper to hire someone to set a localized benchmark for that one time a year. For the rest of our work, we only use a project-based datum. The photos in the post show the monument that was set.


I sat in on a personnel discussion for a position we have open in our water/sewer department.

Setting Survey Marker 2011

Property Research and Bike Trails

A couple of us went over to city hall to meet with other staff about property and how it relates to a bike trail we would like to construct. We reviewed documents and research others did in the past and discussed possible alternatives to constructing the path.


The rest of the day was filled with miscellaneous tasks related to the sealcoating project, development of our GIS street centerline layer, and discussion of ownership of the pond in the subdivision I mentioned in past posts.



A GPS Twist on Overweight/Oversize Permits

Each city seems to have set up some form or policy for issuing overweight/oversize permits. But other than filling out the form and securing necessary certificates of insurance, what else should be done to perform a proper review? And how can GPS eventually help improve this process?

My thoughts on the overweight loads are that engineering can figure out the load on the pavement and the strength of the pavement. But for most urban streets, the base becomes the primary concern. And if the base is the controlling factor, the engineers performing the review have to rely on their knowledge and experience with their own street system.

But what happens if a certain delivery is necessary for a business, and the only way is along a road that can’t handle the weight. Can you or do you deny the permit? If you deny access, this can quickly move to a political situation. Because how can the city prevent a critical business in town from receiving equipment or product needed for an important expansion?

As for the oversize loads, the issue seems somewhat more straightforward. For this situation, the primary concern is the ability to navigate the width and height of the roadway. And if lines or signals have to be moved, the freight company takes that responsibility.

The other concern with these permits is how to verify that the load followed the route specified by the permit. Some cities require a police escort. However, many do not have the staff to provide this service. So I was wondering the other day if GPS could be used to improve the permitting process. Many trucks have GPS already installed. What if a city required all permitted loads to submit a route map to prove their vehicle took the correct streets? If the map did not match the permit, a fine could be issued. Would it also be possible to allow real time, online viewing of the truck driving once it got within a certain range of the city?

Do you have a specific review process for overweight/oversize loads or do you have any thoughts on the use of GPS to improve this process?