New UCA chair sees a bright future for underground construction industry

At the conclusion of the Rapid Excavation and Tunneling Conference (RETC) in Boston, MA on June 14, Erika Moonin, owner and president of Moonin Associates, began her two-year term as chair of the Underground Construction Association, a Division of SME.

Moonin will lead an executive committee that includes Lonnie Jacobs (vice chair), Mike Rispin (past chair), representatives Rahel A. Dean-Pelikan and Daniel Riggs and members; Shane Yanagisawa, Paul Madsen, Jay Arabshahi, Michael Vitale, Paul Schmall, Michael Bruen, Matthew Crow, Mark Johnson, Jonathan Klug, Sarah Wilson, John DiPonio, Moussa Wone, Jon Huh, Everett Litton, Grover Vargaa and Anthony Pooley.

In the next two years, Moonin will look to continue many of the successful initiatives already underway within the UCA including outreach to young professionals and students and an increased focus on diversity and inclusion in the UCA and the underground construction industry.

She began her involvement with industry-related associations as a college student and became involved with UCA when Amanda Ellioff asked if she would serve as an ITA WTC session chair. Bill Edgerton encouraged Moonin to join the executive committee where she helped grow and expand the Owners Forum, initiated the UCA participation in the ASCE legislative fly-in, expanded the mentoring program, and brought forward as the Executive Committee representative an initiative to establish Women in Tunneling as a formally recognized committee of the UCA.   

Moonin recently spoke with T&UC about her goals for her term as Chair of the UCA.

T&UC: What are your plans for the UCA for next two years?

Moonin: To continue to expand our presence and establish UCA as the go-to resource for all things underground. I want to highlight and promote the efforts of, and increase engagement of volunteers and diversity within our organization and industry including with Young Members, Women in Tunneling and the Owners Forum. We can only do these massive and critical infrastructure projects if we consider and value everyone that is involved. In addition, I would like to highlight innovations in our industry and challenge us to continue to develop solutions to being efficient, reduce cost and claims, and expand the use of underground space. It’s exciting to look into the future and be visionary as to what role underground space will play in our cities of tomorrow.

 T&UC: What are the main projects/goals of the UCA Division for the near and long-term future?

Moonin: For the long term, the UCA has a strategic plan and the executive committee and other committees continue to advance the work to accomplish the goals. There has been significant progress in past years on the Down for That initiated and lead by Paul Schmall and now championed by Everett Litton. The Teach the Professors program lead by Mike Mooney, and the Owners Forum now lead by Moussa Wone have also progressed very well. These programs will be supported as they expand and will have even more of a reach and impact in our industry. More about our strategic plan can be found out our website at

We will also continue to support and provide input into the ITA objectives, by continuing the advancement of the technical working group’s guidelines and other efforts that support the initiatives of the ITA, and having a liaison on the executive committee of the ITA. This is important as the ITA seeks input form the member nations and these guidelines and studies form policy and standards across the globe for underground infrastructure.    

In the near term, the UCA is embarking on expanding the legislative fly-in initiative by creating a subcommittee to develop a plan forward for our governmental and legislative outreach and programs.  This will support owners and governmental agencies with formulating recommendations and determining funding for underground infrastructure.   This group is kicking off this year under the leadership of Bob Goodfellow.   

In addition, the UCA is launching a new committee to reach younger school children which is being led by Sarah Wilson. This committee will develop a plan to reach the K-12 students and encourage interest in the underground industry.  

T&UC:What advice do you have for someone just joining UCA or SME?  

Moonin: It’s an exciting time for the underground space industry. As cities grow we need to look down. Join and get involved!  No matter how much or how little time you have or want to dedicate – we have something for you. Getting involved is so rewarding, as you give back to the industry you also learn in return. The experiences, conversations, and relationships you gain through involvement in UCA are priceless.  

For those considering going into the underground industry or looking to switch careers, we have an amazing scholarship program that provides coverage of some costs to attend conferences and we have many activities beyond the conferences including the technical working groups, GPAC, many committees, and fun activities like student outreach. I can’t tell you how beneficial it is to run through the exhibit hall, attend committees’ meetings and networking events, and expand your exposure to the multi-disciplines that are involved and grow your network. Meeting folks – engineers, owners, contractors, suppliers and others who will support you that you may work with or alongside you on your next underground project.  

T&UC: What are your thoughts about the near-term future of the Division?  

Moonin: With an uptick in volume of upcoming underground/tunneling projects and the expanded services and benefits we provide to our members, I see UCA growing in membership. Not only do we provide a host of valuable resources, we also provide valuable experiences, at both the conferences and beyond the conferences, for our members and for our industry participants. We have many great initiatives that reach beyond the members, the programs mentioned here, expanding engagement beyond the industry and are seeking volunteers to provide input and implement these initiatives.  

T&UC: What are your thoughts on state of the tunneling industry?

Moonin: It’s a great time to be in the underground industry as there are many upcoming projects, those that are large and complex, and breaking into new uses of underground space. It’s amazing to be part of major infrastructure and to leave a legacy of these long-term solutions – in all sectors and growing – that serve many generations. There are many innovation ideas and concepts being pursued and brought to market which are needed to being able to keep up with the demand of these projects and expand to the evolution of our cities and communities.    

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