The Underground Construction Association (UCA) and Tunneling Journal Cutting Edge conference opened with the theme “Advances in Tunneling Technology” to its largest attendance yet with 285 in-person participants in Dallas, TX on Nov. 15. The conference runs Nov. 15—17 and features speakers, technical sessions and a tour of the Mill Creek Drainage Relief Tunnel project in Dallas. Attendees came from the United States, Europe, Israel and Canada and include engineers, contractors, project managers and college students.
Dr. Priscilla Nelson, currently professor and head of mining engineering at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO was the opening speaker and delivered a keynote address discussing crumbling infrastructure in tunnels, waterways, sewage and drainage systems in the United States and world and ideas on how to address resilience and the underground. Nelson has worked as a program director and senior advisor at the National Science Foundation, as a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and was formerly provost at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. She is internationally known for her expertise in geological and rock engineering.
Her talk focused on the fact that cities throughout the world are growing in population and that growth is anticipated to continue in the coming years. “Our future is one of population and urban growth worldwide,” said Nelson adding, “It’ll be interesting to see how people want to live, considering the long-term effects of the pandemic.”
Nelson encouraged the audience to think about the often vast, public and private infrastructure systems that are frequently created independently from one another and in silos in many cities. She explained that many have been created in an uncoordinated manner and need to be considered by engineers in more of a “systems of systems” approach. The complexities and interdependence of waterways, sewage, drainage, electricity and transportation modes need to be looked at more holistically, she said.
“We have to inform the public, professionals and politicians, and provide truths, examples and answers,” said Nelson. She cited natural disasters and the recovery time it took for each including Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, and the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, in 1995, lessons learned and the necessity of studying what went wrong and how to anticipate for these types of events in the future.
The first day of the conference featured speakers presenting and sharing about current tunneling projects, innovations and challenges they face, including those happening in Dallas, Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, Vancouver, London, England and Germany.