Publisher’s Message October 2020: Tunneling in the Age of COVID

The topic of this month’s cover story – “Utilization of Underground Space Promotes Urban Development” – raises interesting discussion points, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that is impacting the country, and the world.

Written by Nasri Munfah of AECOM, a global engineering firm with deep roots in the transit sector, the article shows the beneficial impact of transit investment on the development of our urban centers. Given the trends in population shifts toward cities and an increased need for sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation solutions, investment in mass transit should be a priority.

Munfah uses New York City as a backdrop to showcase how investment in an underground, urban transportation network has had a tremendous impact on the city. However, the current impact of the COVID crisis has had substantial impacts on New York’s mass transit system, with similar impacts being felt across the country. In the article, Munfah notes that subway ridership dropped to 10 percent of its daily boardings, although he wrote that it is anticipated to return to its former levels within a year or two.

A recent article in the Economist (Sept. 5, 2020) reported that MTA, the agency that manages the New York subway system, is losing $200 million a week and “is on the verge of financial collapse.” A Sept. 15 report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) says that “six in 10 public transit systems will need to reduce service and furlough employees in the coming months without an additional $32 billion in emergency federal funding from Congress.” APTA is urging Congress to pass new legislation that would provide $32 billion in emergency transit funding to help agencies maintain services and workfoce while we recover from the pandemic.

The news for the tunneling sector is not all bleak, however. Water and sewer infrastructure funding remains a priority. Also in this issue, we talked with tunnel contracting firm Jay Dee, and highlight their projects that are playing a vital role in protecting our environment, notably CSO reduction programs. Based in Michigan in the heart of the Great Lakes region, Jay Dee has been involved with several projects that have an amazing impact on the water quality of the region, restoring lakes and rivers to swimmable/fishable goals outlined in the Clean Water Act. Also of note, Jay Dee and tunnel contractors across the county have been able to continue progress on projects underway due to the critical nature of the work and measures adopted to help create safe jobsites.

As Munfah notes in his article, “The use of the underground space is sustainable. It provides isolation from the elements reducing power consumption and carbon footprint. … The use of underground space provides additional environmental benefits in term of visual effects, air quality by removing vehicles from streets, less congestion, and a reduction of noise and vibration resulting in a better quality of life at the surface. The use of the underground facilities improves the local and global ecological cycle. … Underground facilities are more cost effective considering life-cycle cost and triple bottom line since design life of all underground facilities exceed 100 years.”

In planning for our future, it is important that we do not lose sight of the tremendous benefits that underground facilities and mass transit networks play in the overall health of our society.

Jim Rush is Editor/Publisher of TBM.

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