Traveling the Tunnel Circuit

This fall will mark my 15-year anniversary with TBM: Tunnel Business Magazine and Benjamin Media Inc. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I accepted the position after working as a reporter for newspapers in Annapolis, Md., Goldsboro, N.C., and Lorain, Ohio, but the late-night deadlines and weekend and holiday schedules of the newspaper business made the move to a more family-friendly business-to-business gig a welcomed change.

During that span, I have had the pleasure of visiting tunneling projects across the United States and Canada (sometimes the travel is not-so-family friendly, but everything involves a tradeoff, right?), and seeing the work up close never ceases to amaze me. From the smallest crossings to the billion-dollar plus mega-projects, each job has its own unique challenges that must be overcome.

I had the chance to reflect on this after a West Coast trip in March that included the NASTT No-Dig Show in Sacramento followed by a jaunt to the San Francisco Bay area for tours of the Central Subway, Bay Tunnel and New Irvington Tunnel projects. (I had initially planned to use this space to write about innovation, and the balance between using new technology and tried-and-true techniques that are sometimes overlooked. I had planned to compare and contrast James W. Fowler Co.’s project in Seattle, which marked the first use of Herrenknecht’s vertical shaft machine in the United States, and the old-school mining taking place at the New Irvington Tunnel – John Henry-type stuff – but that will have to wait…)

During my tour of the Central Subway, Erin Halasz, SF MTA outreach liaison, asked if I had a favorite tunneling project. I was stumped. There have been probably 50 site visits over the years, so you’d think at least one at least one or two would stand out. But that wasn’t the case – they all did: the first project I visited, a short TBM crossing as part of the Heights/Hilltop project in Shaker Heights, Ohio, coordinated by the late Len Liotti of Midwest Mole; the transformative Big Dig project in Boston (I got a tour through the newly opened tunnels courtesy of Thom Neff, who was with Modern Continental at the time); at least three trips to Arrowhead East and West tunnels (led by John Townsend, HMM, on at least two of those occasions) – before and after the rebid, fire and mudslides; 300 ft deep below Framingham, Mass., (my personal record) in the MetroWest tunnel with Steve Harrington of Modern Continental. The list goes on: East Side Access, Second Avenue, No. 7 Line in New York; Caldecott and Devilís Slide in addition to the aforementioned projects in the San Francisco area; ECIS and NEIS in Los Angeles. Highway, rail, sewer, water.

Ultimately what makes the projects most interesting is meeting the people involved who make them happen. These dedicated and capable men and women build the infrastructure that makes our way of life possible for now, and for generations to come. As I think back across my career here, I am thankful to have caught a glimpse of some of these amazing projects and had to chance to meet at least a few of people who make them possible. And I am looking forward to many more in the years to come.

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