As we enter a new year, it is customary to reflect on the past year and to look to the future. In looking ahead, it seems the U.S. tunneling market is entering somewhat of a lull. The period from about 2005-2014 was marked by many large-scale projects across the United States, seemingly coming out one after another. This was especially evident in New York, where there were three mega projects under construction at the same time, including two multi-billion dollar projects. At the same time, mega projects emerged in Seattle, Los Angeles, Miami, Las Vegas and San Francisco.
Looking ahead, other than the West Side Extension in Los Angeles, there don’t appear to be projects of the same scale waiting in the wings. That said, the market is far from doom and gloom, with several major CSO programs across the country that will sustain the market, as well as CSO tunnels being constructed in second tier cities. There is also an unfunded demand for tunnel rehab that has yet to be tapped.
New Jersey Transit’s de-funded Trans Hudson Express tunnel program put a big dent in the New York City metro area’s project backlog. The tunnels would have been the first trans-Hudson train tunnels built in more than century and would have been a critical addition to the strained transportation network in the New York metropolitan area and beyond. Despite N.J. Governor Christie’s pulling the plug on the project, the demand for additional transit capacity linking NJ to Manhattan has only grown in criticality, due to damage to the existing tunnels caused by flooding during Superstorm Sandy. On a broader level, the crossing of the Hudson River represents a choke point on Amtrak’s heavily trafficked Northeast Corridor that stretches from Washington, D.C., to Boston, Massachusetts. Fortunately, it looks like the Federal Transit Administration, the NY-NJ Port Authority, and Amtrak will move forward with a new scheme to cross the Hudson River. The project is high on the Federal Transit Administration’s priority list, and the recently passed transportation bill could provide enough funding to give the project enough critical mass. The estimated $20 billion price tag would also make it one of the most expensive tunneling endeavors undertaken in the United States to date. There is also talk of private financing helping fund the project.
Other projects are on the drawing board that, if the stars align, could also provide a big shot in the arm – notably the California Bay-Delta tunnels, Phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway, and further extensions to the Los Angeles Metro.
In the meantime, while the U.S. tunnel market is not poised for rapid growth in the near term, the international market is a different story. Just of note, Turkey currently has more TBMs in operation now than the United States. Asia, India, the Middle East and a latent Central and South American market point to a positive outlook for the market worldwide.
World Tunnel Congress 2016
Each year, the U.S. tunneling community gathers at a conference – either the RETC in odd-numbered years or the NAT in even-numbered years. Three years ago, a U.S. organizing committee won the bid to host the 2016 World Tunnel Congress, which is the annual conference of the International Tunnelling Association (ITA). Held in a different country each year, the 2016 event will be a joint conference between the ITA and the NAT. This is especially exciting because it represents the 20th anniversary of the last time the World Tunnel Congress was held in the United States, which was in Washington, D.C. in 1996.
WTC 2016 will be held April 22-28 in San Francisco, California – a perfect host location for the world tunneling community not only for its natural beauty and cosmopolitan city offerings, but also its ability to attract visitors from Asia and Europe.
The event will be held at the Moscone Center, an expansive convention center in the heart of the city near Market Street. WTC is a great opportunity for members of the U.S. tunneling community to meet with decision-makers from around the world. With one of the most inviting cities in the world as its venue, the WTC attendance could approach 3,000 delegates which would make it the largest tunneling conference in history.