Maybe it’s just a case of more information being readily available through any growing number of media, but over the past few years it seems that tunneling projects are becoming increasingly visible in the public eye.
While there have been high-profile tunneling jobs throughout the years, notably the Channel Tunnel and the Big Dig, for the most part tunnels have been invisible to the public, literally and figuratively. Of course, the SR 99 Tunnel caught people’s attention with its record-breaking TBM and an alignment under the heart of downtown Seattle. But it seems the usually out-of-sight, out-of-mind sewer and water tunnels are also garnering public attention.
In recent years, DC Water and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, among others, have used social media, blogs and public events to keep the public at-large in the know about multi-billion dollar consent decree programs. Not only is this effective in allowing the public to see what their money is being spent on, it helps make the case for rate increases that are necessary for the work to be done.
Cities from Los Angeles to Atlanta to London have hosted public competitions to name the TBMs, many of which are personified through Twitter. [A list of Tweeting TBMs includes: @LucyTBM (First Street Tunnel, Washington DC); @LadyBirdTBM (Blue Plains Tunnel, Washington, DC); @NannieTBM (Anacostia River Tunnel, Washington DC); @purplelinetbms (Westside Purple Line Extension, Los Angeles); @regionaltbm (Regional Connector, Los Angeles); @MomChungtheTBM (Central Subway, San Francisco); @BigAlmatheTBM (Central Subway, San Francisco); @MackenzieTBM (Euclid Creek Tunnel/Dugway Storage Tunnel, Cleveland); @driller_mike (Water Supply Progream, Atlanta); and, of course, @BerthaDigsSR99 (SR 99 Tunnel, Seattle).]
In Akron, the city held a naming competition (“Rosie” was the winner), in addition to hosting a public event that allowed the public to visit the launch portal and take a trolley tour of the surface alignment. Thousands of people attended. A local brewery even debuted a new beer in honor of the project and the TBM.
What’s more, with Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk entering the underground arena with The Boring Company, tunneling is garnering even more attention. The entrepreneur has big plans for tunneling – including faster tunneling speeds and high-speed subterranean transport systems. Whether his goals come to fruition or not, the tunneling industry can stand to benefit from the increased focused on the value of underground infrastructure and the role it plays in modern cities. USA Today recently profiled Musk on the front of its Money section titled “Can Tesla’s Elon Musk Revolutionize Tunneling?”
While tunneling may never have universal mass appeal, it is nonetheless encouraging to see it getting some of the attention it deserves.
Risk Management in Underground Construction
Perhaps one of the reasons behind the increased attention and public outreach for tunneling is the increasing scope and complexity that accompany today’s projects, which can include contracts that exceed $1 billion. As projects increase in scope, risk management becomes a larger part in successfully completing projects. Without an understanding of the risks up front, and frank discussion of the risk between all parties, projects can become involved in disputes that escalate cost and schedule.
To help promote best practices and cultivate a dialogue between all parties – owners, consultants, contractors, insurers, lawyers – Ozdemir Associates, Microtunneling Inc. and TBM host the Risk Management in Underground Construction course. The second annual course is being held in Arlington, Va., a stone’s throw from Washington Reagan National Airport, Nov. 28-29, and features a dynamic speaking agenda from leading experts worldwide. Information is available at: www.undergroundriskmanagement.com.
Jim Rush Editor/Publisher