Look back to look forward9 May 2018
January marked 200 years since Marc Brunel patented the first tunnelling shield. The cover of this issue shows just how far the industry has come since he tunnelled under London’s river Thames, and further in the features illustrate the strides the industry has made over the last decades.
In the early 1980s the City of Calgary installed a water utility pipeline directly on the Glenmore Dam, currently shared with a cycling and pedestrian path.
At the time there wasn’t really another option. With trenchless technology it’s been replaced with a larger pipe, underground. Conveyors recently installed in Paris have been designed for use in urban worksites, reducing the project’s footprint above ground during construction. In the technical section read through the ways TBMs have changed to cope with challenging and mixed ground conditions.
Like a child pointing curiously to a video tape, in another 30 years or a 100 years we may look at these accomplishments and other best practices as twee or outdated. Communities may marvel at the engineering feats and treat them with reverence like so many of the disused Victorian rail tunnels now being rehabilitated and reopened for recreation.
As Elon Musk enters the industry with the Boring Company fundraising efforts have focused on merch, specifically: 50,000 baseball hats (authentic caps listed on Ebay for USD 70-500 accompanied by a whole slew of knock offs), 20,000 fl amethrowers (shipping this month) and supposedly lifesize Lego-like interlocking bricks made from tunnel spoil.
“Rated for California seismic loads, so super strong, but bored in the middle, like an aircraft wing spar, so not heavy,” Musk announced in a tweet. Gimmicks will likely be memorable, as part of the eccentricities of Musk, whose net worth is estimated at around USD 20bn and has said he refuses to take a pay check from Tesla, but only if they deliver.
Financing is a major stumbling block for infrastructure projects, but it’s not alone. There are still lengthy environmental, permitting and other review periods to add time and costs to projects. There is the myriad of issues with utilities—how cities locate them and share this data. This field needs an injection of passion and cash for all infrastructure projects to be more successfully realized.
Musk and his Silicon Valley counterparts should engage with utilities stakeholders to improve this component of civil engineering. It will save plenty of pain when it comes time to build Loop, his high speed underground transportation system in which passengers are transported on autonomous electric skates traveling at 125-150 miles per hour.