A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 28

Day 28

Utility in our Right of Way with No Permit

Today I spent a little more time looking into the utility that was placed in our right of way with no permit. We went out into the field to measure how far off the road the concrete handholes were poured. For most of the length, the road has a rural section (no curb and gutter – only gravel shoulders). The edge of the concrete was 9", 12", and 18" from the edge of pavement at the three handholes. 

After looking into the property documents in that area, I also realized that the owner of the utility owns land north of the roadway so at least a quarter mile of the line could have been placed further off the road on their own property. Also, about another quarter mile was placed along right of way that is only for the use of roadway – not utilities. This is a common mistake unfortunately made by engineers who do not understand property ownership. What the engineer missed here is that in rural areas most land owners with property adjacent to roadways actually own to the center of the road. And the owners have given an easement to the public for roadway purposes only. So if you are designing a utility  like water mains or sanitary sewers and plan to have them installed in this apparent "right of way," you still need to arrange for the property owner to grant an easement for the utility because it has no relationship to roadway use. Of course, my supervisor and other staff members in our office realized this, but the consultant designing this project must not have.

So, I am not yet sure how this will all be resolved. We have set up a meeting to discuss it further.

Looking down on a weir in a restrictor

People Messing with Drainage

So after gathering more information about the permit issue, I spent some time with other staff members looking at a restrictor structure where someone had altered the height of the overflow. We aren't sure when this happened and only realized it after residents started complaining about failed flared end sections. One of our staff members figured it out by researching the subdivision plans which were dated in the 1970s then arranging to have some elevations taken on the structure. Through his efforts, he determined the height had been raised by about 6 inches which makes sense because as you look around the pond, each end section is submerged by about 6 inches. The person who raised the weir seems to have done so by trying to first use concrete blocks and then placing wood wrapped in a rubber membrane. You can see the result of their work in the photo to the left. This is a view looking down from the top of the structure. After a few of us visited the structure today, we came up with a solution of cutting the wood down to the design height. This allows us to quickly resolve the situation with minimal cost and disruption. We still are surprised that someone would take it upon themselves to raise the design level of a retention pond in a subdivision.

Inlet Removal and Replacement

Later in the day, I met with a contractor who was going to pave around an inlet we removed and replaced earlier in the year. We had done this to help encourage water to flow into this inlet rather than continue to travel down the road and down properties lying adjacent to and sloping away from the roadway. Unfortunately our work will not allow for the capture of all the water flowing down the road and onto the properties. But since the properties along the road slope down from the road at a significant grade to a creek, there's only so much we can do to keep the water completely on the road.

Developments and Parking Lots

At the end of the day I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion with a developer about some property in our city. It was a great meeting, and because the developer knew a lot about our city, I was able to learn many things. Later in the evening, one of our staff engineers and I attended a planning commission meeting. The group was considering our request to change zoning on a specific parcel in our downtown and allow for the use of a parking lot in that same block. After the project engineer testified and explained our project, the commission asked questions about the project then approved our request. This will now go forward for council consideration and hopefully approval.


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 8

Day 8

Geneva Road Construction Aug 2011

The great construction mystery: Why aren't the standard frames made to fit the standard inlets?


Well, the inlet frames I picked out were placed on the structures today! I went out to work with the crew while they were placing them to make sure they fit and they were set at the right elevation. (If you've been reading my blog, you'll remember I had to buy special grates to fit the inlets because the old ones were too big.) While we worked, we discussed how the frames and grates that are in the IDOT standards do not fit the inlet structures that are in the standard. Which really doesn't make sense. But the worst part of it is this causes a gap where dirt and road base are washed out from under the road into the inlet. This ends up leaving a big hole near the inlet or manhole.  (You can see an example of this in the photo below.) And these failures can end up being the biggest maintenance problem I see cities dealing with. Where I worked before the 

Chicago 2011 Photos near Lincoln Park Area

contractors were good about working with me to avoid problems by pouring a lot of concrete around the inlet frame to seal it. But up here where I work now, they don't seem as interested in cooperating, and I'm not on the job as much to make sure they are doing it. So one of our water guys told me he found an inlet frame he thinks fits better so I am going to check out what he has picked out, and if it works, we will spec that for the job next year.


Parking Lot Project

We are still working on our new parking lot design. Today I finished up the ownership information and emailed it to the city attorney. The project engineer and I also discussed our approach to applying for a special use permit. In this city, we are not exempt from our own regulations so our department must apply to the community development department asking for the planning commission and city council to approve a special use for the lot. 

APWA Education Committee

I also participated in a phone conference with the APWA education committee for the Chicago Chapter. They are planning some pretty cool sessions. My role in the conversation was only to discuss the possibility of giving a presentation on communication and social media. 

Certificates of Completion for Development

Another task for which my office is responsible is preparing certificates of completion for new developments. So today I prepared and submitted to the city council for consideration a certificate of completion for one of the new developments in our city. The process works like this: when everything is finished, our inspector does a final walk through, and if everything is ok and completed, he gives us the go ahead to submit this certificate to the city council for approval. However, approval of this certificate does not mean approval of the improvements. That's another certificate we submit for approval after a specific time period has passed. 

New Developments

We also have been reviewing a new development that had been given approval to begin construction of a portion of the proposed development. And today we dedicated some time to processing and helping move forward another phase of this development.  Normally a developer would submit plans and documents and only begin construction once all approvals and payments are in place. But because some developers are more anxious than others to start doing something, it seems that occasionally we get a few that push to have us proceed in this phased approval approach. The problem is it sets up a very challenging and difficult process for us. It ends up taking a lot more staff time to respond and monitor each phase, and it creates confusion between departments as everyone struggles to keep track of what has been approved, started, paid for, etc. Anyway we want to do as much as we can to work with people investing in our community so we try to accommodate developers to help them meet their schedules. So we worked this morning to get them through the next step in the process.

Railroads and Bike Trails

We have been working on a plan to extend a bike trail along an old abandoned railroad bed. But the challenge has been we only own a portion of the property needed for the trail; the railroad still retains ownership of most of the remainder. A while back we met with a representative from the railroad who said he would work with us to investigate the possibilty of transferring ownership of their portion. But he needed a map and some other documents. So today I worked a little on getting the map prepared.




A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 2


Today was one of those days filled with many micro tasks. And as @motownmutt pointed out yesterday on Twitter, listing tasks is most definitely something an engineer does. So here we go with most of the things I focused on today brought to you in typical engineering list fashion:

Inlet Flow

Picking out Frames and Grates
Early in the morning, I called our sales rep with  EJIW to try to decide if a particular frame and grate would work on some inlets on our Motor Fuel Tax job. These inlets are typical two-foot-diameter concrete structures. They currently have a square frame and grate that does not fit the circular inlet well. This sets up the potential for failure of the pavement because the soil/stone under the road can get washed into the inlet in the holes left where the frame overlaps the basin. The inlet is not placed well near the curb so I cannot use a typical curb inlet like the one in the photo. I could use a circular frame and grate, but the concern with our maintenance staff is that those grates catch debris more easily than some of the others. So, I found a square frame and grate with a round bottom that will fit well on the inlet. But the sales person needed to see if he could get these in time. If not, I’ll have to go with the round ones. 
Hunting Down Road Names
Last week we had given the county GIS department the names of four roads that didn’t match between our system and their GIS. The person who makes the changes at the county called asking for a map and the documents supporting the change. We’ve been researching our road names for about a year now to verify the ones in our GIS are the formally approved name. So I did have documentation for two of them. However, I didn’t realize we had passed along two changes that did not have documentation. So I spent time today looking for the document that changed those road names. Although my search resulted in learning how the roads were established, I never did find the documentation for the names. So rather than spend more time looking, I am going to see if we can have the city council approve the road names so I can record them. Only after we do this and record the change with the county will the county change the name on their GIS.

Reviewing Traffic Signal Agreements
Today I also continued to look over a traffic signal agreement between the city and IDOT that I had been reviewing. Because I could not figure out how the percentage of responsibility was split for both maintenance and energy, I contacted IDOT to ask them. (The district office we work with is always very helpful, and I am always very appreciative of that.) The person I talked to said I would need to look at the individual agreements that were signed each time each signal was improved. So our interns spent part of the day looking for these agreements. Unfortunately we could not find any. I decided to try another route. In my previous position, I was located in the District 3 territory for IDOT. There we had an awesome person who was responsible for all agreements. So I figured if I contact his counterpart in District 1, I can probably get copies of these old agreements. I think the total number of signals involved is between 10 and 15. Once we get these percentages verified, I can move the agreement along for consideration by city council.


Backyard Flooding & Detention Basins

I called back the resident who had concerns over the backyard flooding. This is the one where we discovered the backyard is a detention basin. I explained it is flooding because it is supposed to and it will hold water for some time before draining. However, because of the intense use of the basin by the residents, I explained that more debris does get into the system and occasionally plugs the outlet. So I encouraged the resident to contact us if the water does not seem to recede in a normal amount of time. I also mentioned that the above ground swimming pools that some residents have set up in the bottom of the basin are taking up space that is designed to hold stormwater. Therefore, water could rise faster than is designed. But I did not get the impression they were going to move their pool. We do not have a policy where we require these pools to be moved so I left it at just explaining the consequences.

Securing Project Documentation
Last year we constructed two jobs using ARRA funds. One of these we inspected with in-house staff saving approximately $60,000 based on the costs we incurred for outside inspection on the other one. At this point in the process, I am still working to close out the project documentation – mainly because I have not yet received the proper documentation. The final paperwork I’ve been waiting for has been from the landscaper who continues to give me the same thing over and over that is not correct. Because I tried talking to him once and had to listen to him tell me how he didn’t care if we never hired him again because he is so awesome, I figured it’s easier just to run down the information myself rather than go through that conversation again. By the end of the day, the seed and fertilizer suppliers had agreed to get me the right paperwork so hopefully I can get a little closer to finaling out the job.
Other Miscellaneous Tasks


  • Another engineer and I reviewed the sealcoating schedule for a few public parking lots. This is a major undertaking because the lots are so well used. The project engineer always does a great job letting people know about the work ahead of time so hopefully this year will go as smoothly as last year. But it does take quite a bit of planning.
  • We also discussed creating a map showing all of our road centerlines color-coded based on condition rating and year of repair and year of sealcoating. This map can help us more quickly identify the roads that are best positioned for sealcoating. So I spent some time with our GIS staff to decide how we wanted to set this up.
  • We received comments back from the county about potential access to properties lying within our Southeast Planning area. So I spent some time reviewing the comments.
  • We also researched the boundary information along a road lying between us and our neighboring city. The striping on the road needs to be re-done so we need to determine who has the responsibility to pay for it. I ended up asking our administrative office for a copy of the boundary agreement so will probably get this tomorrow.
  • We are researching the maintenance responsibilities of a detention basin in one of our subdivisions. So our GIS created a spreadsheet of the properties lying within the subdivision, and I passed this along to the person working on the project. Our interns also found the document creating the homeowner’s association for this subdivision. And the document does indicate each property owner in the subdivision is a member of the association, and the association is responsible for the basin.
  • Our planning department needed a copy of the plans for a development that was completed last year so I scanned and sent them. We also sent off related comments because someone is looking at the possibility of a development adjacent to that one, and there are improvements that need to be done when the remainder is improved.
  • We received comments from IDOT about drainage from a proposed development so I reviewed them and passed them along to the engineer reviewing the project.
  • During the morning, I also received a call from a resident who had fallen off their bicycle on one of our roads. So I spent some time documenting the incident and phone call.