A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 58

Day 58

Tree Contractor Started

The Emerald Ash Bore has been in our community for a few years now. But the Ash trees really didn't show severe signs of infestation and damage until last year. Then unfortunately it seemed like they all died this summer so our council decided to make the removal of ash trees a priority. Because we could not remove the trees fast enough with our own crews, we hired a contractor to help out. Today was his first day. Unfortunately he must have forgotten the instructions given to him prior to starting regarding shutting down lanes along the state highway during rush hour. One of the engineers I work with had driven out to his job around 8 am and called to let me know the tree contractor had closed a lane and traffic was backed up. I contacted the foreman who manages the street crews, and he went out to let the contractor know he probably needs to work elsewhere during rush hour.

Reclamite Application

CAM Reclamite application Oct 2011

Later in the morning the contractor we hired to apply a pavement restoration product showed up to clean the pavement and apply the material to the road. Because this was the first time we have applied Reclamite to a road in our city, a few of us went to the site to watch the operation. It went smoothly and did not take a long time. The disruption to the residents also seemed to be minimal. We had let them know last Friday that we would be doing this today so it seemed that they were prepared for it. It will be interesting to watch the pavement perform over the next few years. The contractor said that not only does this material help delay failure of the pavement, but it will help the road shed water faster. He also said we will notice the snow melting faster on this road than on others.

Downtown Plan

During the afternoon several staff members met to discuss the draft downtown plan prepared by our consultants. I've been disappointed throughout the process that the engineering firm helping the planning consultant did not ever talk to us about the plan. They ended up suggesting "improvements" that really don't work with what we have. It almost makes me wonder if they use the same recommendations for every community. For example one suggestion was to use a pedestrian lead time at the signals. But this really can't work because we have a protected left turn that leads off the green time. So if we let pedestrians go a few seconds early, they would get hit by the cars taking a left turn. In the end, the plan will be good, but it seems that getting to that point has taken our staff a lot more work because of a lack of communication or understanding on the consultants part.



A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 57

Day 57

Intersection Enhancements

We have an intersection in our city where many people cross from a local hotel to a banquet center. The crossing is at a state highway and is uncontrolled – no stop sign or signal. So the business is requesting that we look into enhancing it to better facilitate pedestrian crossings. Today we spent some time discussing ideas and solutions. And I arranged for a vendor I know to stop by next week to show us some of the solutions they have available. My supervisor and I also visited the site to see the condition and space we had to work with. This is the beginning of a potentially big and interesting project for us.

Pavement Treatment

We also met with the contractor who installed the pavement treatment system we were researching earlier in the year. They are going to spray the treatment on one of the roads in our city we paved last year. We wanted to go over the details at the meeting. Later in the day the project engineer and I handed out letters to residents to let them know about the work. We also needed to ask the residents to keep the cars and leaves off the road on Monday so we could spray.

Gate Access & Security

In the afternoon, we met with the installers for a new system that will open our gates and our doors at public works using a card reader. This will help increase security for our facility. We made plans on where to install the electric lines and the equipment.


Lots of miscellaneous work

Although today was busy with many meetings, I also had a lot of miscellaneous work to take care of:

  • Arranged to have GIS plot out displays for the council's strategic planning meeting
  • Arranged to have GIS collect the field locations of the new water lines in the community gardens with GPS
  • Met with another staff member for a performance review
  • Sent out a map for the bike committee to mark up with attractions for bikers



A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 1

So many people seem to have no idea what civil engineers do each day. Is this because civil engineers typically avoid promoting their work and profession? Or is this just something that people are not taught in school? Or does anyone, other than engineers, really care? Or is it a little of all of that? In an effort to help contribute to removal of the first reason, I decided to try out documenting each work day with a short summary of what I did that day working as a city engineer at a municipality with a population of approximately 23,000. I will try to avoid specific names because they should not be relevant, and because the people involved might not want this information publicly posted on a blog. Feel free to post in the comment area any questions or ideas related to the post for that day. If something is posted that reminds you of a similar experience, I'd love to hear it!

Day 1 

My normal work day starts at 7 am and officially ends at 4 pm. Usually I hang around after 4 and leave between 4:30 and 5 pm unless I have another obligation. Today, I started my day as I normally do checking my calendar and my email. Our division had received an offer from a contractor to inspect a product that we had not yet used in our city. The inspection trip was scheduled for today, so we finalized the time and who was going to go during the early morning. While waiting for the contractor to show up, I worked on the following items:

  • Finalizing the property research our interns had completed to determine property ownership in a block where the city is designing a new parking lot. We need to know the property owners because the city attorney must use this information to prepare related agreements and easements.
  • I also worked with our interns to explain how to perform and document research to determine a chain of title of property for a detention pond in one of our subdivisions. 
  • I reviewed a development plan scheduled to be discussed later that day.
  • And of course, I read through and answered and organized the day's email.

CAM Product Road TreatmentDuring the last half of the morning, some of our staff went with a contractor to inspect the performance of his product. We were also able to witness the company in the process of placing the product along a county road. Many of the products we use have been around for a long time and have a long track record. In order for us to incorporate newer products into our designs, we need to spend the time to make sure they are worth the money and will perform. In this case, we thought the product greatly improved and enhanced the performance of the pavement to which it was applied. So we agreed the product does seem to provide value at a reasonable cost. (You can see how the product looks right after its application in the photo to the left. The pavement at the top of the photo shows how it looks after it has dried.)

We ended up only stopping for a short lunch then returning to attend a staff review meeting for a proposed development. These meetings include members from all departments in the city who are part of the development review team. The purpose of the meeting is to talk about the submittal and identify any concerns or areas requiring changes or clarification. So, we discussed the proposed plan and developed comments to send to the developer. 

After the meeting, another engineer and I left the office to inspect a drainage inquiry. Questions about drainage are the most common call our division receives from residents. In this case, the person was asking about their backyard flooding. After looking up the original subdivision plans, we realized the back yard of this residence is part of a detention basin. The area is designed to flood, or detain water, during a storm. After the storm, the water will eventually drain away. The last time it rained was a few days ago, so today, the area was dry.

I also ended the day touching base again with our interns about their property research. They had discovered the basin was owned by an association affiliated with the subdivision. So I showed them how to verify the corporation and ensure it had not been dissolved and explained how to look up articles of incorporation.

There were many miscellaneous items I addressed over the day through email although I'm not sure how detailed I should be about these. For now, I'll try a short listing of some of the items, but if this seems to be too much to include in a summary, let me know:

  • Reviewed a request to hold an event in our community to ensure there were no engineering-related issues with the event request
  • Worked on getting access for our staff to the ACE11 Virtual event
  • With the help of the county staff, resolved a question about who maintains cattails in the right of way of the county road in our community
  • Passed along striping requests to one of our staff members who is managing the striping operations for this year

For all things pavement….

Throughout my travels in Second Life, I have seen the impressive vision expressed by people who work for government agencies located in the United States. There are a number of creative and innovative government employees who have seen the potential of using Second Life to better perform their jobs and to reach out to citizens and other government professionals. The builds they have helped create provide an educational and intellectually stimulating location in which to learn and interact with others.

Today I found out that a group of government professionals, in partnership with the University of Washington, has been working with Internet-related technologies other than Second Life to come up with an impressive tool to share knowledge related to pavements. The result has been the Pavement Interactive Wiki. According to the site, “this document (or ‘Guide’ for short) is an Internet-based multimedia document whose primary purpose is to provide a general pavement overview covering all aspects from materials to design to construction to maintenance. It functions as a ‘Collaborative Web site’ that resides on the Internet and requires only a PC/Mac and minimal freeware to access the information.”

The site provides a multimedia and interactive product that engages the design and construction community and offers them training, information, and the ability to collaborate on all pavement-related topics.

Because all the content from a former Web site, Pavement Guide Interactive, was imported to the wiki, there is already a large amount of pavement-related information in the reference section. Other areas of the wiki are “portals” or areas where members of the original pavement consortium can create distinct pages for their agencies. Other groups, such as organizations, can create their own pages for collaboration in the “Groups” area of the site.

Users who register at the pavement interactive wiki can add research and content in the “articles” section. I registered immediately and added this wiki as a resource on our own Public Works wiki under the transportation section of the Public Works in Real Life page.

As a government worker myself, I applaud the leadership, vision, and innovation that continues to be exhibited by engineers and other public works staff employed by federal, state, and local agencies of our government. I figure it is only a matter of time before I can visit DOT, FHWA, and EPA islands in Second Life.