For the first time since 2018 the North American Tunneling Conference (NAT) returned to an in-person format with more than 1,000 attendees coming together for the three-day conference in Philadelphia, PA June 20-22.
The conference began with the opening award session in which individuals and projects were recognized for outstanding achievements and contributions to the tunneling and underground construction industry. UCA Awards Chair Lonnie Jacobs explained that the UCA adjusted some of its awards criteria to better align with those presented by International Tunnelling Association.
William Edgerton, past chair of UCA and past SME president was given the Lifetime Achievement award.
Edgerton said he was humbled by the award and thanked those close to him who have supported his career. He also spoke about ways to continue to improve the industry. In addition to developing better resolution methods Edgerton encouraged those attending the conference to use the opportunity to learn from successes as well as mistakes. “We need to learn from past mistakes,” he said. “At these conferences we do a good job of talking about the projects that we completed and the success we have had, but not all of the projects go well and we should share stories about the jobs that didn’t do so well because we learn more from mistakes.”
Attendees had ample opportunity to learn about success and some failures from industry experts.
Derek Pernrice, vice president, principal project manager – tunnels for Mott MacDonald, was the program chair for the 2022 conference. Along with a committee of industry leaders, the three days of technical programing covered a range of topics important to the industry.
Technical programming tracks included: Case histories; Tunnel lining design; Underground project delivery; Construction innovation; Design of underground spaces; Rehabilitation/fire life safety; TBM technology; SEM/NATM excavation techniques; Challenging design issues; Underground project risks; Innovative solutions; Shaft excavation, tunnel rehab & challenges; Innovative designs; Future projects; Design innovations; Geotechnical & contracting cases; Numerical modeling; Project design and Digital technology.
The biennial conference has established itself as the premier event for the exchange of technical information and while much of the programming was very technical, the conference also allowed attendees to discuss the less technical, but equally important issues facing the industry. Among those issues is attracting and retaining a qualified workforce that will allow the industry to meet the demand for more underground infrastructure. An issue Edgerton spoke about during his acceptance speech.
The Muddy Boots Award was given to Christophe Bragard. This award goes to a field supervisor who has exhibited leadership in the field. Bragard also spoke about the workforce challenges and ways to retain good people. He compared building of tunnels to climbing a mountain, saying both endeavors require team work and a shared goal. And in both, the journey, while challenging, should also be enjoyable.
In addition to the technical programming, the conference included a number of networking events including receptions of UCA corporate and sustaining members; an Owners reception and a Women in Tunneling reception as well as the NAT Welcoming Lunch and UCA Breakfast.
During the UCA Breakfast, UCA Chair Mike Rispin spoke to a crowded room about the need to support the industry by supporting the UCA’s strategic plan that was built on the pillars of improved stakeholder awareness; association growth and industry education. During the breakfast, Rispin spoke about the need to increase awareness about the benefits of underground infrastructure to a wider audience. He has written about this topic in his chairman’s column of T&UC and encouraged the attendees to become involved with the education of decision-makers.
Rispin noted that SME has had success educating lawmakers through the efforts of its Government and Public Affairs Committee. That committee does not lobby, but provides factual information on issues related to mining. Rispin said the UCA should have a similar committee that can educate lawmakers on the benefits of tunneling.
The tunneling and underground construction industry, after all, is healthy and positioned well for the future. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that was recently passed includes billions of dollars to improve the nation’s transportation networks, water and power systems and Internet connections.
The infrastructure bill includes about $16 billion for “major projects that are too large or complex for traditional funding programs,” but that have big economic benefits, according to the White House.
In addition to new spending on highways and bridges, the broader infrastructure package includes what the White House calls the nation’s biggest investment in transit and clean energy transmission in U.S. history, as well as billions for replacing lead pipes and extending broadband. It includes investments in passenger rail, electric vehicle infrastructure, and programs to address past environmental damage, reduce road deaths and improve airports and waterways.
Many of these future projects were discussed throughout the conference and the conference concluded with a closing plenary session chaired by Jon Klug called the Tunnel Demand Forecast. Klug complies the information for the Tunnel Demand Forecast in each issue of T&UC. In this session future projects in the United and States and Canada were discussed.
The UCA executive committee welcomed three new members During the North American Tunneling (NAT) conference in Philadelphia, PA June 19-22. Joining the leadership committee of the UCA, a Division of SME, are Matthew Crow (owner representative), John T. DiPonio (contractor representative) and Jay Arabshahi (owner representative).
“The UCA Executive Committee is structured such that some incumbents conclude their terms and new members join the group annually,” said UCA chair Mike Rispin. “This is a great, ongoing process which ensures that we get fresh ideas and new perspectives into the team which steers our Underground Construction Association. I’m delighted as Chair to welcome Jay, Mathew and John, and look forward to their participation and contributions.”
The new members join officers Rispin (supplier representative), Erika Moonin, vice chair (owner); Bob Goodfellow, past chair (engineer representative). Members: Tony O’Donnell (contractor); Matthew Preedy (owner); Red Robinson (engineer); Jon Klug (supplier); Sarah Wilson (engineer); Grover Vargas (supplier); Shane Yanagisawa (contractor); John Huh (supplier); Moussa Wone (owner); Paul Schmall (contractor); Michael Vitale (engineer); Mike Bruen (supplier and member at large) and Mark Johnson (engineer).