In the opening keynote session of the 2019 Cutting Edge Conference in Miami, FL on Nov. 19, 2019, Arnold Dix, vice president of the International Tunneling Association, pointed beyond the technical challenges and benefits that come from creating tunnels and underground spaces and spoke about the importance that underground infrastructure provides to humanity.
“For its part of the social agreement with its citizens, the state will provide clean water, sanitation, security, transportation and access to food. It is this social contract that makes civilization function and the tunneling industry plays an integral part of this contract,” said Dix, who is also a geologist, disaster investigator, trial attorney, dispute resolution practitioner, technical dispute avoidance board specialist and visiting professor of tunnel engineering at Tokyo City University.
Dix made these remarks to more than 270 tunneling and underground construction professionals at the 2019 Cutting Edge Conference, hosted by UCA of SME and Tunneling Journal. He was the first of three keynote speakers for the session titled “Extreme Tunneling for a Brave New World.”
This fifth annual conference included two days of technical sessions covering all aspects of the tunneling industry, and the keynote provided an overview of some of the largest and most pressing issues for the industry.
Dix took a broad view, reminding the audience that by providing infrastructure the industry helps civilization to prosper. In first-world countries, a stable and clean water supply, sewage and transportation and utility tunneling below ground allow citizens above ground more freedom to engage in professional and recreational activities. On the contrary, Dix spoke about how third-world countries often lack the infrastructure that is taken for granted in many developed nations.
Dix said it is imperative that this infrastructure is not neglected and that funding for new infrastructure projects remains a top priority. He also spoke about how tunnels in remote, third-world regions can benefit the entire world. In addition to the humanitarian aspect of providing life-sustaining infrastructure to those who need it most, Dix said clean-water tunnels can also save established nations. Speaking on the sidelines of the conference to T&UC, Dix said there is evidence that a future pandemic will have devastating effects on the world’s population. It is not known when or where such a pandemic will occur, but there is a high likelihood that it will begin in a third-world region. One of the best defenses against such a pandemic is clean water and sanitation.
Among some of the other challenges the world is facing is population growth that is predicted by the United Nations to take place in many countries around the world, including in the United States.
Dix said there will be a need for governments to adhere to the social contract for more people while the industry struggles with finding more engineers to do the jobs that create infrastructure. Automated machinery can help with this challenge, but that leads to issues of what to do with all of the data that is collected.
“We are crucial to maintaining society, and we must help others rise up to enjoy a good life. Seventy percent of the world are in the have-not category and that isn’t good for any of us,” Dix explained.
Lars Babendererde, of BabEng followed Dix and spoke about issues that arise from maintaining face support of tunnel-boring machines in special conditions. His talk pivoted to the more technical aspects of the industry, but he also spoke about the challenges facing the tunneling industry, including the lack of diversity and new engineers joining the ranks. The need for new engineers is not unique to tunneling; the mining industry is also struggling with the issue.
According to Babendererde, the governments of the world can help solve the issue by providing steady investment into infrastructure that will give students the confidence that when they graduate, the industry will still be strong. The tunneling industry can work to create an attractive working environment, be open to new technologies and implement continuous training. He also said the industry needs to attract more women.
James Utterback, with the Virginia Department of Transportation, provided an update on the evolution of the $3.3 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion contract, which is the largest construction project in Virginia’s history.
The project is an example of all the items that were discussed by Dix and Babendererde.
The current I-64 Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (HRBT) is a 5.6-km (3.5-mile) facility with two two-lane immersed-tube tunnels connecting artificial islands, with trestle bridges to shore. The tunnels are approximately 2,300 m (7,500 ft) long. Traffic through the facility exceeds 100,000 vehicles per day during peak summer traffic. This corridor is one of the most congested in the region.
The expansion project, expected to be completed by November 2025, will widen the four-lane segments of the I-64 corridor in the cities of Hampton and Norfolk. Twin two-lane bored-tunnels will be built west of the existing eastbound tunnel; current eastbound and westbound tunnels will accommodate all westbound traffic upon completion of the project.
The massive project is made possible through unprecedented regional cooperation. In April 2019, the Commonwealth of Virginia signed a Project Agreement for Funding and Administration with the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission and a Comprehensive Agreement with Hampton Roads Connector Partners and the design-build team that will complete the 10 miles of expansion work.
Two full days of technical sessions followed the keynote with industry experts sharing advice on many aspects of the industry. Sessions included cutterhead interventions; ground control, face support and monitoring; developments in tunnel lining design and advances in TBM operation and excavation technology. UCA of SME chair Bob Goodfellow chaired two panel discussions — Big data and who wants it and TBM operation and face support. The conference also included a young members session that was created by the Young Members Group of the UCA of SME and included talks from finalists for the 2019 International Tunneling Association’s Young Tunneler of the Year Award.
The 2019 Cutting Edge Conference was held one day after the International Tunneling Association 2019 Awards Conference & Banquet.
The Regional Connector Transit Project in Los Angeles, CA. It was named the Project of the Year (between €50 million and €500 million). The Regional Connector Transit Project is an underground light-rail system with three new stations. LA Metrolink estimates that the Regional Connector will increase ridership across the entire transportation system by 17,000 people per day and save commuters an average of 20 to 30 minutes by reducing the need to transfer to different lines. Major challenges were encountered during the work and consequently, a few innovations were implemented. The overall cost of the project is estimated at $1.2 billion.
- Major Project of the Year (over €500M): Tuen-Mun Chek Lap Kok Link — Northern Connection Subsea Tunnel Section, Hong Kong, China.
- Project of the Year (between €50M and €500M): Regional Connector Transit Project, Los Angeles, United States.
- Project of the Year incl. Renovation (up to €50M): Modernization of the Vladivostok Tunnel of the Far Eastern Railway, Russia.
- Technical Project Innovation of the Year: Toulouse Line A Underground Stations Extension, France.
- Technical Product/Equipment Innovation of the Year: Autonomous TBM, Malaysia.
- Innovative Underground Space Concept of the Year: Underground Green Farming, Switzerland
- Safety Initiative of the Year: Air Quality Working Group An industry-first Collaboration On Silica Dust Control, Australia.
2020 George A. Fox Conference
On Jan. 28, more than 370 tunneling and underground construction professionals gathered at the Graduate Center of City University of New York for the 19th George A. Fox Conference. The one-day conference has become a mainstay for the industry to exchange ideas and best practices and this year was no different.
The theme of the 2020 edition was Design & Construction of Complex Projects. With an abundance of projects taking place around the world, the planning committee was challenged with choosing the best projects for the conference.
Fox Conference chair Paul Madsen said the committee began with a wish list of projects and then contacted potential presenters, checking on their availability. “There are always some, where bureaucratic issues get in the way of having the project being presented, but we tried to have the theme reflected in the projects/presentation we selected.”
The end result was a one-day program that included talks about some of the most challenging and exciting tunneling projects from around the globe including the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel Replacement project; the Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel Project; the Plymouth SEM Tunnel; the proposed Baltimore to Washington, DC Maglev program and construction of the Montreal Express Link Tunnels.
Madsen, who pulled the conference together as the chair, also pulled double duty to kick off the conference when he filled in for Kim Anderson to speak about the Femren Link project, an 18 -km (11- mile) long immersed tunnel that will link Denmark and Germany. It is currently the longest subsea tunnel under construction in the world and when it is completed it will link Scandanvia to central Europe with a tunnel that include two tubes for pedestrian traffic and another for rail.
Madsen deflty spoke about the hugely complex challenges the project faces, from the technical issues of constructing an immersed tunnel with segments that are more than 200 m (656 ft) in length to the political issues that come with an international project that links Germany and Denmark. Among the issues are environmental impact statements and other issues such as citizen involvement, social responsibility, budget controls, environmental protection, climate adaptation, worker’s health and safety, not to mention the challenges Madsen faced with learning the presentation just days before it was to be given.
“I was familiar with the project, at a very high level, but was required to get familiar with it in a hurry,” said Madsen. “The original speaker, Kim Andersen, knows the project and presentation by heart. When he and I decided I should give it a try, he recorded the speech and sent me the audio file. I then spent the weekend before the conference locked up in my study transcribing the talk and practicing. Subsequently, I ended up learning about the project in greater detail than I had anticipated.”
Despite the late challenge to the program, the conference was another success.