Uncovering All that Goes into a DRMP Utilities Engineering Project
January 31st, 2020
There is more to utility engineering than meets the eye. What you see above the ground—manholes, valve covers and backflow prevention devices—may look pretty, but below the ground trouble may be brewing. As infrastructure ages over time, pipe joints can fail, pipes can crack and environmental regulations can change. The utility engineer must be prepared to work on upgrading an outdated utility system or helping a client rehabilitate existing facilities to meet new regulatory requirements. As many utility engineers know, at the forefront of making sure all utility engineering projects go smoothly are public involvement, public information and utilities coordination. All of these factors are critical when a project, such as a utility relocation as part of a roadway improvement project or a utility rehabilitation as part of a streetscape project, will be affecting the daily lives of businesses and residents.
When working on a project that will affect a residential area, there are several things to consider, with public involvement being at the top of the list. Certain accommodations must be made for residents to have access to their residences, driveways and walkways. When the project is in a commercial area, entrances to businesses must remain as unaffected as possible. In addition, existing service must be maintained without cutting off sewer or water service. There is more than one way to accomplish this. A new system can be constructed alongside the existing one without cutting off service. The second option is to replace the pipe in the same location piece by piece, allowing the services to only be offline for a short amount of time. This can be done if the system is a water system that is looped because the water is being directed in two different ways, so home and business owners are minimally affected. If it is a sewer system, the piece by piece method can be done using pumps to guide the wastewater around the pipe being constructed.
Along with public involvement, public information is key to a successful utilities project during construction. Making sure residents and businesses are included in communications about the project makes a world of difference in making sure the project stays on track. Kick-off meetings are the first step to inform residents and businesses on project construction and assist them in understanding how and when construction will affect them. It’s important to always keep the public updated on project happenings and notified of any changes to avoid surprises along the way. In a project such as a utility replacement project, the public will want to know of any potential road closures or service outages. It is also important to establish a channel of communication that allows for people to ask questions or give feedback, such as a website or a contact person.
Lastly, all projects require some amount of utility coordination to ensure the project goes as smooth as possible. During many utility engineering projects, there are typically dozens of other utilities, like electric or gas, in the ground, right in the project’s area. One example that required extensive utility coordination was the Ft. Myers Downtown Streetscape project. A total of five communication cables were found in the project’s right-of-way. Further coordination uncovered that the new cables were installed, but the old ones were never removed. Only one of these five cables was actually live. This is a good example of when utilities coordination becomes key.
As someone with 24 years of experience in this industry, I can assure you that every successful utilities project takes all of the above into consideration. Making sure the public is minimally affected by construction, keeping them informed and coordination with all involved utility agencies are all part of a great project outcome, not just for the client, but for the general public as well.
Patrick Day, PE, BCEE is DRMP's Utilities Department Manager and Ft. Myers, FL Office Leader.
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