Our Town … Getting to Know You

Donna Lane
Engineering Department
Issue Date: 
November, 2018
Article Body: 

This is the fifth in a 6-part series on the Town’s departments and key employees within them.
Norwood’s Engineering Department is a lean three-person team — Mark Ryan, the Town Engineer, who also does double duty as the Director of Public Works; Andy Murphy, Assistant Town Engineer; and Brian Murphy, Civil Engineer — all of whom have degrees in Civil Engineering. All three are also approved by the Department of Environmental Protection as Soil Evaluators, and both Ryan and Murphy are registered Professional Land Surveyors. The team is assisted by a part-time draftsman. That’s a lot of knowledge and expertise for our Town!
This team provides a broad range of services to all of the boards and committees of the Town, including the Selectmen, Planning Board, Board of Appeals, the Conservation Commission, the Department of Public Works (DPW), the Recreation Department and the General Manager, about development and problems with traffic, sewer, drainage, roadway and construction issues. They also work with residents, builders, private engineering groups and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).
What are some examples of what they do? For the Planning Board, they review plans, provide cost estimates and inspection services; for the Board of Appeals and Conservation Commission, they provide plan reviews and engineering opinions. They also provide construction design, cost estimates and engineering services to the DPW and assist the Rec Department on a variety of projects. Their universe is wide-ranging and no two days are ever the same!
They perform all of the design work for our roadways, including traffic islands, curbs, sidewalks and paving. They provide construction administration and supervision of the annual road resurfacing project. And they perform surveys for roadway and utility projects and keep all of the utility records for the Town. They also maintain all of the Town’s tax maps and some of the residential property maps.
They work to resolve drainage problems and have redesigned drainage systems to alleviate flooding in various areas of town, and they provide engineering assistance for water main projects.
When builders have a question as to where utilities are located or what construction requirements they must follow, they seek advice from Engineering. Residents who have questions about their property also call on the department for help as do private engineering companies tasked with completion of residential and commercial projects.
The projects that hit closest to home for many residents as having immense value are those that the Engineering Department has been working on solving for a while: two of the most needed improvements to safe and adequate service needed for our roadways — the take-your-life-in-your-hands Upland Road and Prospect Street intersection, and the-wait-for-ten-plus-light-changes-to-get-to-the-highway University Avenue/Everett Street intersection at Route 1.
For the first project, the department has been managing the design of intersection improvements, including the installation of traffic signals at Upland and Prospect streets. The project will be funded by MassDOT in calendar 2020/2021.
For the Route 1 problem, the Engineering Department has provided input to MassDOT and its design engineer on improvements to this intersection. The Town has, in fact, put pressure on the State since 1996 to upgrade this intersection. Construction is expected to be funded in calendar 2021/2022. The wheels have moved slowly, but both of the improvements will bring a huge sigh of relief to those residents who use these areas daily.
We cannot always see what the folks in Engineering do and we don’t always recognize what their contributions are because their work is often advisory. And, really, how many people get excited about relining sewer pipes or resurfacing roads? We just take these services for granted. So, it was interesting to learn about something that’s rather exciting for the department — the development of a GIS (Geographic Information System) that will make record keeping more efficient. The GIS is basically an intelligent mapping system that can pinpoint where assets are located, such as water mains, gate valves, street maps and utilities.
Imagine that there is a fire or flood and information is needed rapidly. The GIS can pull up the map of an area, locate the problem area and who is affected. Informed decisions can be made quickly and repair teams dispatched with precise knowledge of what needs to be done. When speed and accuracy are important, a fully functional GIS will be invaluable. Currently, the Assessor’s tax maps, the zoning map, and the water, sewer, and drain systems have been converted to electronic format.
“Up to now, funding for the GIS has been limited, but we have received a grant from the State to enhance the system,” Ryan said. The system is about 30% complete right now. The grant will take us to about 75%.”
Imagine the possibilities when the GIS is at 100%. Thank you, team Engineering