A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 60

Day 60

Culvert Lining Project

Geneva Culvert Lining Project 2011

Today was the day the liner was delivered for our culvert lining project. The placement of it seemed to go well. The contractor will finish grouting the annular space tomorrow. A resident did stop by to tell us we didn't know what we were doing, and it would never work, and he would sue everyone when water backed up into his home. Of course, he had no  information to base his opinion on other than the new pipe is of a smaller diameter than the existing one. So the other staff members tried to explain the hydraulics and design information to give him an idea of why a smaller pipe can carry the same or more water, but he still didn't believe anyone. So he contacted the elected officials to express his concern. I let the engineer who designed the culvert project know about the complaint. 

It's unfortunate, but this seems to happen so much where a group of professionals put in a lot of time designing a project, and then someone stops by and tells everyone they are all wrong, and it will never work. And they never seem to have any facts or information to base their opinion on. 

I have to admit I have seen some poor designs in general executed over the past 30 years, however, none related to culvert sizing. And even those poor designs did not cause failures or damage – they were just not good designs and usually ended up impacting our operations and increasing our costs. So the city had to do more work to make the final product better and improve efficiency and cut costs. But I can't remember where there was property damage that could be attributed to bad design – maybe poor construction but not poor design.

Of course, the bottom line in a something like this is that anyone building or buying a home next to a creek increases their risk of having water entering their home during a storm. Particularly when openings like doors or windows are installed that allow for a way for water to enter the home. Culverts and other stormwater facilities are only designed to carry a certain storm intensity. If a storm occurs that is greater than the design storm, the culvert or other stormwater infrastructure will not convey all the water and could allow water to back up and enter nearby structures. So for our situation, whether we leave the old culvert or install a new one with equal or greater capacity, there will always be a risk that a storm occurs that will not be handled by the culvert and water could back up into homes – that is the risk of owning property next to a body of water.

Intersection Enhancements

We also met with a vendor who sells traffic control products. He did a great job showing us some alternatives for the intersection where we are trying to draw attention to a pedestrian crossing. One product we are particularly interested in is a sign and light called the "Enhancer." Here is the link to a site showing the product: http://www.statewidetrafficsafety.com/enhancer.asp.

Miscellaneous

We did manage to get our staff meeting in today. And I continued on trying to check our budget line items.

 

 

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A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Days 34 through 38

In an effort to catch up on my postings due to attending the APWA conference, I'm combining all last week into one post then following up tomorrow with the first two days of this week. 

Days 34 through 36

Day 34 was spent attending the APWA conference in Denver. You can read a short summary of my day on the post before this one: 2011 APWA  Conference – Day 2. There are a couple extra items I probably should have added to this post, but they really deserve a post by themselves so will write something up later this week.

Day 35 was also spent at the APWA conference – I also need to summarize this day on a separate blog post. 

Day 36 was spent traveling back from Denver. Before leaving, I tried to take a lot of photos around the Capitol building. You can look through my photostream on Flickr here: Denver Colorado Photostream. There are quite a few photos illustrating streetscape elements, construction, and other design elements.

Day 37

Of course, my first day back at work after the conference was spent mostly catching up. I went though emails and met with my staff to discuss the status of certain projects. I also worked on preparing a status update for an STP project we have scheduled for FY2013.

Day 38

Chicago 2011 Sept (101)

Finally on Friday, another engineer and I attended a "lunch and learn" about natural area management. It was presented by Karen Kase who works for Hampton, Lenzini, and Renwick. I've mentioned her before on this blog – Karen is part of a team at HLR managed by Erica Spolar that focuses on design and management of natural areas including wetlands, stormwater basins, etc. The information they shared with the group is important because our area has constructed these natural areas everywhere, but it appears that when they were put in, a management plan was not always created. So many of us are now working to address this component. And until now, there was little formal guidance on how to handle this aspect of these natural areas. 

Our office also had scheduled the carpets to be cleaned over the weekend so all of us had to clear out our offices. You don't realize how much stuff you have on the floor until you have to move it. Today I told another co-worker, I was starting to think maybe they did this to encourage us to minimize what we put on the floors!

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2011 APWA Conference – Day 2

Below is a report of the 2nd Day of the National APWA Conference:

 

General Session: Becoming a Community Builder – Leadership in Changing Times

Denver Colorado Sept 2011

Day two of the 2011 APWA conference started with a general session, Becoming a Community Builder – Leadership in Changing Times, with keynote speaker, Ian Hill. He began by sharing his background and how he came to be involved in helping the public works profession develop leadership. Hill admitted he used to be a typical person who thought culverts, roads, and stuff like that just happen. But since getting involved in our profession he has managed to interview and spend time with thousands of people in public works. And after hearing his talk, I believe he has managed to find the pulse and heart of our community. When he described how we work so hard with such commitment, belief in our mission and communities, and dedication to our jobs, then one day get smacked down "into the cement" at a public meeting or stabbed in the back by others in our workplace, I thought "how can he know exactly what happened to me!?" But I quickly realized everyone else in the room was relating to this too. Yet, the inspiring part of our profession is that we all managed to get back up, and here we are again focused on figuring out how to improve ourselves and what we do so we can go back home and continue to make our communities even better.

This is one of the reasons I believe it is so important to maintain a membership in an organization like APWA and spend time with each other. Yes, the organization offers great information to use at our jobs and share with co-workers. But when you work in a profession that is constantly under scrutiny and bears so much criticism, most times completely unwarranted, you need to have opportunities to reach out to others who can relate and share your experiences. This networking also helps us figure out how to motivate others in our field who are also "battered and bruised" by the constant bashing of public employees. Because as Hill pointed out, that is one of the challenges of our jobs. How do you lead people who work hard everyday but continually hear from the press the message that they are bad, lazy, worthless public employees who don't deserve the salary or benefits they've earned? How do you walk in each day and ask them to give it their all? Hill said "we need to ask ourselves what is the leadership approach required for the environment today?"

Right of Way Permitting – City of Hamilton, Canada

The next session I attended was about right of way permitting. Although we don't issue a lot of right of way permits each year – probably under 100 – it would still be nice to have a system other than a spreadsheet to track them. So I went to the session to learn more about ROW permitting systems. The presentation was given by Gordon McGuire who works for the city of Hamilton, a city in Canada of approximately 500,000 people. McGuire discussed their system which is built on a combination of Oracle Go360, Bentley Map, and PRISM. In his community, the city handles all restoration and bills the utility. Some of the interesting points for me were that Canada has realized that utility installations cost tax payers money. This is because many times we have to change our plans or pay the contractor more money to deal with non-city utilities.

 

Bus Rapid Transit

Our county has been studying the implementation of a BRT route along one of the major corridors through our city. So, in the afternoon, I attended a talk about Bus Rapid Transit. The talk was given by Sharon Humphreys, senior project engineer with Bureau Veritas. She primarily talked about the BRT route that was created in San Diego. This project was financed through a ½ cent gas tax. The BRT is administered by the San Diego association of governments. However, MTS will eventually own, operate, and maintain the system.

The buses serving their BRT were designed for swift passenger loading with multiple streams. The vehicles are 35 feet in length and have enhanced wheelchair access. They run on a gasoline-hybrid propulsion system and are equipped with an AVL unit with GPS.

Signals along the route are set up to allow for queue jump lanes so the busses run in separate lanes. If the bus is running behind schedule, this allows for the bus to get an early green ahead of the other traffic. But the early green is not given if the bus is on time.

In their experience the BRT has been very successful. She suggested it was important to plan for BRT in areas of high congestion, large number of riders, and expensive parking facilities. But a key aspect of their system that probably ensures its success is that it runs through and serves the University of California with three of its 17 stops on campus property. So I imagine there was a high potential for student ridership that other communities might not have.

 

International Stormwater BMP Database

Stormwater always seems to be a hot topic in public works. So another session I attended was about the International BMP Database. The main presenter was Jane Clary from Wright Water Engineers. She explained the history of the database – it was initially funded by the USEPA via the Urban Water Resources Research Council of ASCE. But now, it is supported by a broad coalition led by WERF. The project’s central focus is to “gather technical design and performance information to improve BMP selection and design.”

The database is set up so that anyone analyzing performance of BMPs can submit data to the site. It currently has data representing a total of 470 BMPs. Clary went through a couple examples of how to search for a BMP and access the related data. Much of the information seemed to be presented in “box plots.” These graphs indicate the probability of success for that BMP. The data related to each BMP can be downloaded for later analysis.

 

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A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 25

 

Day 25

Water Main Extension

Most of the first half of my morning was spent working on a cost estimate for the water main extension I have designed. I also filled out all the IEPA permits for the project and had our water superintendent sign them. 

PVC Pipe

Then I filled out the EcoCat to determine if there were any endangered species. This came back negative which is what I suspected – the area through which  the water main will go is an abandoned railroad and quarry that is now a park within our city. Next I will have to write a letter to the Historic Preservation to ask them to determine if there are any historic preservation issues with the site. But again, I suspect based on the previous uses on the site that this will also come back negative.

Storm Sewer Project

During the last part of the morning, I dropped off the legal description for the easement we will need to install storm sewer behind some homes on the east side of town. There's signficiant backyard flooding in this area so we will install a couple inlets and tie them into our storm sewer. But because the inlets need to be in the backyards, the city will need an easement. Our policy is that the homeowner needs to prepare the easement document so once we get this, I will submit it for council consideration. If they approve it, we will install the storm sewer.

Miscellaneous Resident Concerns

We also checked out  a drainage concern a neighbor had about some work that took place near their property. Then we checked out a report of someone dumping brush on city property and possibly obstructing a drainage way. We found the brush pile which was significant and told the people who had been dumping it that it needed to be moved asap.

Road Project

In the afternoon, we continued our task of driving the roads to determine road conditions.

Other stuff

A couple of us went out to lunch today with someone who had worked here earlier in the year as an intern. It was great to touch base with her and find out what she was up to and hear how GIS is handled where she works now. I was thinking earlier today, we have had five interns so far this year. They have all been great workers, and they helped us get a lot of work done.

Social Media/Communication/Customer Service Workshop!!!

Then at the end of the day, I spoke with the education coordinator for our local APWA chapter. We are planning a communication/social media/customer service workshop in October. We want to offer a fun and engaging day that helps everyone learn how to make the most of the tools that are out there. So if you know of anyone in the Chicago Metro area doing great and interesting things with social media/communication/customer service or public outreach, let me know. We'd love to have them participate in our workshop. We could even remote in people, so if you don't live or work around here and have something great to present, we could remote you in through Skype or other methods.

Hope everyone has an awesome weekend! and keep our public works colleagues who are handling the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in your thoughts and prayers!

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A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 14

Day 14

This morning we started out handling a concern from a resident whose driveway was poured last week as part of the road project. The contractor was supposed to have taken off the barricades yesterday. But for some reason, they never got over there to open up the drive. So we had to call right away to remind them to remove the barricades. (The reason we must keep everyone off the concrete for so long is that it takes several days for concrete to gain strength. Even if the concrete is hard and looks like regular concrete, it really is not strong enough and can be damaged until the proper strength is reached. You can read more about how concrete cures and gains strength here: http://www.ce.memphis.edu/1101/notes/concrete/section_3_properties.html)

ADS Facility Aug 2011

We ended up leaving the office fairly early because we were scheduled to tour the Advanced Drainage Systems manufacturing plant. This facility creates many different types of pipe and other drainage systems. I've used their materials for many years and have been happy with not only the price and installation, but also the performance. It was a great opportunity to be able to see how it is all produced and the testing behind it all. One of the best parts was watching how they created tees and other fittings in their fabrication shop. I would encourage anyone who hasn't been through a tour of this type of facility to try to get one scheduled. After seeing it, I have not only a better appreciation for how the material is made, but as a designer, I can better imagine potential uses and designs.

I also learned that the plastic used to make this pipe is a byproduct of the natural gas industry. Right now, they said a lot of their product is being sold in the agricultural market for tiling. I included in this post a picture of some of their product in their yard and also have uploaded several pictures to this Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/publicworksgroup/

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A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 10

Day 10

Today was a great day – well most days are pretty good, but a lot of really good things happened today! There were some minor tasks I took care of like arranging for our interns to help out the water/sewer department by shooting some elevations for a sump pump line they were repairing and working a little with the interns on the small storm sewer project they are designing. But the main focus of the day were the following items:

Inspection of Storm Management Activities and a Quick Explanation of Special Service Areas

For some time now many urban areas have been requiring new developments to address stormwater management to minimize flooding and improve water quality. So developers installed features such as detention and retention basins, wetlands, or other facilities to meet these goals. Although they have worked well over the years, the challenge that has evolved over time is the maintenance of these areas. Over the years, weeds grow up and cattails take over. Eventually the facility may no longer function as intended.

Hummingbird Moth

We have one large stormwater facilitiy within a subdivision in our city that over the years was increasingly neglected by the property owner. Fortunately our city requires all developers to either create special service areas (SSA) for these facilities or agree that in the future an SSA could be set up. The SSA works by allowing the city to assess real estate taxes on the parcels lying within the SSA for the purposes stated in the document creating that area. In most cases management of stormwater facilities is an approved use of the funds collected through an SSA. If no management is needed because the property owner or homeowner's association is taking care of it, then no taxes are assessed. However if no maintenance takes place, as in this case, the city begins assessing and managing the facility.

So earlier this year we began assessing taxes for this area and secured a contract with a design/build firm to design and implement a management plan for the area. Today our consultant took us out to inspect the work that has been done. I took many photos of the area, and you can see these on the city's Flickr site at this URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cityofgeneva/sets/72157627294641145/

I did add one photo here that was taken by Karen Kase, one of the employees with the consulting firm. (I asked and received permissoin to use her name and photo in this post.) She is an amazing woman – she completely understands this type of work, works hard to achieve results, and does a great job communicating to clients what has been done and what is planned. Anyway, she took this photo one day while she was working on site. She said it is a hummingbird moth. I just had to include it here in this post because it is one of the most incredible photos I have ever seen. She took it with her iphone!

Public Works Staff Meeting

We also had a public works staff meeting today. This is a meeting we have every month that includes all the superintendents and managers in our department. It's interesting and helpful to get together like this to share what each of us is doing and it helps us better coordinate our efforts. We learned that the Emerald Ash Bore has had a devastating impact on our community with thousands of trees left dead. Our street department has a forestry division, and they have been taking down all the trees in the right of way. So far they have removed 225 trees just since May of this year. The superintendent figured he could have about 2,600 more to go. Another interesting bit of information shared is that he was asked to put a sign up at the pay station for our commuter parking garage that says "US Currency Only" because people are paying with coins from Chuckie Cheese and Disney. I figured our dollar was devalued but didn't think it had gotten that low!

ArcGIS Viewer for Microsoft Silverlight

Today I also signed up for the ArcGIS Beta Community so I could get access to try out this awesome application for making web maps. The GIS person in our neighboring community who is just outstanding at creating GIS applications showed us a demo of it at our last group meeting. This application allows you to create a web map through a very easy method. And the resulting map is presented in a very nice user interface. I would highly encourage anyone interesting in creating web maps to join the Beta Community and try out this application. Anyway, I was able to get it installed by the end of the day and look forward to trying it out next week!

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