A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 30

Day 30

Jury Duty

Not sure if anyone realized I never uploaded an article yesterday, but I didn't post because I was called for jury duty. So I had to take the day off to go to that. It was interesting – I got as far as being questioned as a possible juror, but the defendent's attorney said I wasn't acceptable or whatever the term is when you are rejected. The case was in criminal court, and the defendent was accused of possession and sale of a controlled substance. I figured they didn't want me because I work with police and attorneys all the time, but who really knows.

Driveway Paving

Anyway, when I returned today to work, I tried to catch up on emails. Then another engineer and I went out to inspect the installation of an asphalt driveway. Normally we don't get too involved in something like this. But in this case, we have been trying to help out with a drainage concern, and because the situation is not ideal, we wanted to be there to do the best we could to improve the situation. The contractor ended up doing a good job considering what we had asked him to do by hand with asphalt. One of these days I'll try to get a photo and put it up so you can see the end result. 

Road Project

That ended up taking most of the morning, so then in the afternoon I came up with a preliminary list of roads to resurface next year so the project engineer can begin measuring to calculate the quantities and cost. We still are not done driving all the roads, but we wanted to get started on something. 

Our intern was also in today so I started him on helping me calculate a preliminary estimate for another job. He did fairly well for his first time using an engineering scale and working with a set of old plans of the area.

Smoke from Minnesota in Illinois?

We also had a lot of people calling to complain about all the smoke in the city and the smell. I had noticed it when I walked home for lunch and just thought someone was illegally burning. But we eventually found out it's from fires that are burning in Minnesota. That's amazing that smoke can travel that far. And it makes me wonder how bad it must be in Minnesota for those people if it's this bad down here. I hope everyone up there is ok and safe. Here's the link to the weather report because it's just so unbelievable: NWS Special Weather Report Sept 13, 2011 Geneva

Tomorrow I will be at a seminar, but will still try to post something online about it at the end of the day.


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 22

Day 22

Parking Lot Planning

This morning a couple of us discussed the parking lot we are planning to build in our downtown. The project engineer for the job submitted the necessary documents to our planning department for the planning commission hearing we will have Sept. 8th. I also talked to a landscaper who will put together a preliminary landscape design for the lot and set up a meeting with him on site for this Thursday. The project engineer touched base with our lighting consultant to make sure we would have a preliminary lighting plan done in time for the hearing. And finally I reviewed the revisions we had all made to the agreement with one of the property owners from whom we will be getting easements for a portion of the lot.

Road Project

The contractor has been in this week finishing up some minor work on this year's road project. And the project engineer and our technician have been measuring quantities like crazy. But now is the time when our thoughts begin to turn to next year's road project. So today I set up some times this week for us to drive the roads. During this "road trip" we rate the roads, note the ones that could possibly be crackfilled, and check out any other issues or problems. It's the one time of the year we can really take a comprehensive view of all the  roads at once. I also updated the ratings in our GIS for the roads we improved this year and printed out maps to use during our drive.

Permit Review

I finalized the review of a small project someone had proposed for a commercial development in the city. Then I sent out the approval letter to the developer and a few staff members. Tomorrow I will work on another permit we have in that includes a stormwater permit application.

Sign installation

Water Main Project

During the morning, I also researched the property ownership for a parcel through which we would like to place a new water main. Then I contacted the business to set up a meeting with them to discuss the possibility of the city getting an easement.

Street Sign Upgrade Requirements Rescinded

Our city administrator also sent out a letter today that indicates we will probably not have to upgrade our signs to meet the new retroreflectivity requirements by the date that had been set by the FHWA. Instead we can upgrade the sign at the time of replacement. This will save a significant amount of money for many agencies. Here's a link to the press release by the U.S. DOT: 




Getting to Know PROWAG

Non accessible construction in the ROWA clearer understanding of ADA design seems to be on the horizon. Today, the U.S. Access Board released a formal set of proposed guidelines for accessible rights-of-way, also known as PROWAG, at a public briefing and press conference. This document, once adopted, will finally provide the elusive guidance those of us in the design community have been looking for since the passage of the ADA in 1990. And with a better understanding of how to best design compliant infrastructure, we will be able to better construct improvements that increase accessibility and meet the terms of the law. Unlike the new construction shown in the photo to the left.

Those of you interested in reading through the document will find it embedded below or at the link to the guidelines in the paragraph above. Accessibility Online is also hosting a webinar on August 9, 2011, to provide information about the guidelines. According to their website, the webinar "will provide an overview of the NPRM, including major issues addressed in the notice such as alterations to existing facilities, existing facilities that are not altered, and allowances for typical roadway geometry. Time will be allotted for questions and answers."

After reviewing the guidelines, you can submit any comments or suggestions before November 23, 2011, by following the directions at the beginning of the document. So far the main comment I will submit is based on something I heard at a seminar I attended at the Illinois DOT earlier this year. The presenters shared with us a requirement of providing a minimum 5% running slope for the curb ramp. This means ramps must now fit within a tight range of 5% to 8.33%. No one in the room could figure out why this was a requirement and less than 5% would be a problem. Design and construction of a curb ramp meeting all requirements is probably the most challenging and misunderstood element in the entire guideline so adding design restrictions without good reason exacerbates the problem. If there is a reason, then it is worth doing, but so far no one has provided one. I'd be interested to hear viewpoints on this requirement from others. Or if you want to share any other observations or information about the new guidelines or about accessible design in the right of way, feel free to comment below.

Proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way, July 26, 2011




Every Day Counts Peer to Peer Networking

Over the summer, FHWA is hosting Peer-to-Peer Exchanges in partnership with AASHTO, NACE, and APWA for the purpose of highlighting and promoting best practices in implementing the Federal-aid program by local governments. I'll be attending the meeting for the midwest region on July 19th in Cincinnati, Ohio, to participate in discussions with people from all levels of government. So if anyone has any suggestions, comments, or ideas, you'd like to share, I'd be interested in hearing them. You can either enter them in the comment section here or send them to me at pwg@publicworksgroup.com.

These meetings are part of the Every Day Counts (EDC) initiative. EDC is "FHWA's effort to provide National leadership in the quest to meet the transportation demands of the 21st Century." Three objectives make up the foundation of EDC: Shortening Project Delivery,  Accelerating Technology and Innovation Deployment, and an internal effort to make FHWA a greener Agency and reduce our carbon footprint. Of these objectives, streamlining project delivery and embracing innovation seem to be dominating most transportation-related discussions coming out of Washington. Rep. Mica, Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, recently presented the Transportation Reauthorization Proposal embeded below. In it, his committee also stressed the need to work on improving project delivery and implementing innovative changes.


A New Direction – Transportation Reauthorization Proposal




Pod Travel – The Future of Transportation?

About five years ago, I was out on the jobsite watching the contractor and talking with the crew. We had removed the old pavement of a road and were building up a new base of stone so we could replace the asphalt. One of the laborers on the job said, "it's too bad people can't find some other way to get to their homes. Think of all the space we would have if we could remove all the roads." He went on to envision community gardens, trails, parks, and other uses for this newly reclaimed public space. It sounded great, but at the time, I just couldn't see how something like this could be accomplished. Then a couple years ago, I was visiting the virtual site of the United Nations Climate Change Conference and saw a 3D re-creation of the MISTER PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) system. At the time, I wrote a blog post about it, and since then, I have not been able to stop thinking about this pod-based mode of travel.


Last year when a local consultant had contacted our city about a study for building pedestrian/bike access along and across a very busy roadway, I mentioned, at the risk of having him question my sanity, the possibility of PRTs as an alternative. To his credit, he didn't laugh and spent some time checking into it. But he came back with the conclusion that it would not work.

Even so, I have continued to think about the implementation of pod-based travel. Taking this beyond just a public transit system, could we replace cars with PRTs? Could each of us have pods in our garages instead of cars, and when we want to go somewhere, we just hook to the rail? Could it all be computerized so we just put our children in our family pod, tell it which school to drop them off at, then program it to return home? Could this rail system be elevated so that we can fill in roads and reclaim the space as my friend, the laborer, had envisioned?

With increasing costs for roadway maintenance, gas and fuel issues, traffic fatalities, and all of our other transportation-related problems, the idea that we drive vehicles powered by fossil fuels when we have safer and cleaner technologies available seems archaic.

For those of you who are interested in learning more about PRTs, you can check out the following links:

MISTER Website

Open PRT Specification Project 


Transportation TV

AASHTO has always been an awesome organization. So it should come as no surprise they have embraced social media and are rolling out information about transportation through several channels. One of the cooler offerings has been a Transportation TV channel hosted on a dedicated website at http://www.transportationtv.org.  Below is an example of one of the many videos available at this site – this one explains the Highway Trust Fund. Because the videos have embed codes, other agencies can use post these videos on their own sites to help educate and inform citizens about transportation.