Engineer, Standards and Specifications, at City of Houston Office of the City Engineer
By Joe Frollo
What is your background and area of expertise?
I am a structural engineer licensed in the state of Texas. I have a varied experience that includes work in the building, offshore oil and gas, and transportation industries.
What types of projects do you typically oversee?
I work for the city of Houston as an engineer in the Standards and Specifications Group located within Houston Public Works. I supervise updates to the city’s design and construction standards and specifications. That entails updating the city’s infrastructure design manual, general conditions, standard construction specifications and standard details. These documents communicate the city’s requirements to engineers and contractors for most of the public infrastructure that is designed and constructed within the city right-of-way.
How does the city of Houston update those documents?
The city has a review committee composed of members representing different service lines across the city, such as the Capital Projects (CP) and the Transportation and Drainage Operations (TDO) service lines. The committee reviews proposed updates submitted by the public and proposes updates based on lessons learned from past projects. Updates are vetted through internal and external stakeholders and solidified internally before final implementation.
How did you first become interested in the job you now have?
I am a native Houstonian. I became interested in this job principally to give back to the city. I saw this role as a chance to use my engineering experience and expertise to improve the city standards and repay the community that has given me so much.
What are some of the unique or noteworthy projects on which you worked with precast concrete?
The group I’m in recently partnered with the city’s Storm Water Maintenance Branch, which is a part of the TDO service line, to overhaul the city’s stormwater manhole standard details. The city’s brick manhole standard details were decades old, and those brick manholes were difficult to maintain. We worked together to retire those brick manholes standard details and replace them with precast concrete manhole standard details. This initiative led to updates to existing engineering design requirements and construction specifications so they could work in conjunction with the new standard details. As a part of the external vetting process, the National Precast Concrete Association’s (NPCA) aid in improving our standards and specifications was instrumental to this endeavor. Additionally, the help we received from our partners at the local and the state level was invaluable.
Why is the city turning to precast concrete manholes?
The city is moving away from brick manholes and turning to precast concrete manholes for stormwater application because of their reliability. The city has faced challenges dealing with the consequences of infiltration and exfiltration in brick manholes, which compounds maintenance efforts. Quality control requirements associated with fabrication and construction of precast concrete manholes reduce maintenance concerns and increase the longevity of this type of infrastructure.
How do you see the future of precast concrete as a building material?
Precast concrete elements are common across Texas’ public infrastructure. The material’s resilience, product availability and longevity make it ideal for public infrastructure use. If the past is an indication of the future, I see precast concrete building materials continuing to be a mainstay of Houston’s public infrastructure in the future.