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NAT conference attracts a record crowd to Nashville

Nearly 1,400 tunneling and underground construction professionals gathered at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, TN for the 2024 North American Tunneling (NAT) Conference June 24-27.

The bi-annual conference featured 20 technical sessions and two plenary sessions, a robust exhibit hall with 173 exhibitors showcasing the latest and greatest technology and a number of social and networking events.

The technical sessions covered the breadth of the industry including tunnel design, planning, TBM technology, project design and innovations in the industry.

“The program planning team was impressed with the whole lot of papers delivered for this conference,” Louis Falco, program chair said before the conference. “All four tracks have provided our colleagues with interesting topics ranging from innovations in construction, design, digital technology, project delivery, underground risks & assessments, tunnel lining design, challenges encountered in excavations by TBM, SEM & shafts. There is never a dull moment in the underground industry!”

The three day conference opened with a special awards ceremony in which three men were recognized for their careers with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. Awards chair Mike Bruene presented the Lifetime Achievement award to Gary A. Almeraris, Skanska; Randall J. Essex, Mott MacDonald and W.D. “Toby” Wightman, retired. A recurring theme was that their careers and the impressive achievements that led to this point were not done on their own.

Each man reflected on their careers, provided thanks to their families and mentors and urged the crowd to focus on giving back to the industry through mentorship. Almeraris said, “We carve tunnels out of the earth for the benefit of mankind and while this is a competitive industry we are all part of a larger family that strives to do the work well and safely.”

At time in which the tunneling industry has an unprecedented amount of work available, one of the largest looming challenges is that of workforce, namely where will the industry find the people with the knowledge and skills necessary for the complex challenges that come with tunneling and underground construction.

Mike Mooney, of the Colorado School of Mines, was given the Educator of Year Award. He took the opportunity to urge the crowd to remain focused on growing the industry. “I’d ask all of you to think of one place, one school or community, where you can reach out and volunteer to help develop the future leaders of this great industry.”

The Colorado School of Mine is the only U.S. university to offer a degree in tunneling and underground construction. The industry has often turned to civil and geo-techincal engineers to fill out its ranks. Essex is one of many success stories who did not set out to work in tunneling but found a very rewarding career nonetheless. “You may think you know what you want to do with your life but keep your options open.” Essex described how a geology course changed the trajectory of his life.

Wightman, explained he was drawn to civil engineering because it seemed like the engineering field that might offer the most excitement, and he was correct finding a career that took him around the world.

Other awards were presented to: UCA Muddy Boots Award to Sean Sladicka, Kiewit Copr. UCA Person of the year to Robert Goodfellow, Aldea Services. UCA Young Member Award to Rajat Gangrade, Arup. UCA Project of the Year $50 million to $500 million to Guy F. Atkinson Construction LLC – HJAIA Plane Train Tunnel West Extension Project and UCA Project of the Year Greater than $500 million to Lane Construction Corporation, Northeast Boundary Tunnel.

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