Hydro’s role in tunnel development

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    For 40 years the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA) has observed the tunnelling industry and, since the turn of the 21st century, has witnessed noticeable worldwide growth. Søren Degn Eskesen and Olivier Vion from the ITA explain how hydropower projects and flood protection have played a role in this development.


    Upper-Tamakoshi-Access-TunnelFounded in 1974, the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA) is a non profit and non governmental organisation which represents 71 nations. The vision of our association is to be “the leading international organisation promoting the use of tunnels and underground space through knowledge sharing and application of technology”. For this we are committed to developing sustainable solutions for the increased use of underground space that enables clients and industry to excel with:

    • Reliable and economical solutions.
    • Improved safety.
    • Environmental friendly solutions.

    In ITA the diversity of membership is very important as it gathers all professionals involved in tunnelling and the use of underground space. These include owners, engineers, town planners, architects, designers, heavy construction and specialist contractors, material and equipment suppliers, lawyers, politicians, academics, researchers, economists, financiers and so on.

    Since 1987, when ITA has was awarded the special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, we have been involved in human settlements in Habitat II, studies for crossing of the Gibraltar Straits, reduction of poverty programmes and the World Urban Forum. We also recently began to work more closely with UN Habitat on the World Urban Campaign and with UN ISDR on the programme of Resilient Cities.

    Recently, ITA and its members have identified four major concerns regarding the future of underground space use and tunnelling:

    1. The need for underground operational safety. Only through maintaining the highest safety standards can the use of underground space be possible.
    2. There is a growing concern regarding the availability of educated professionals.
    3. ITA is concerned about the lack of awareness regarding the benefits of the use of underground space to our societies and also the lack in developing a local vision on using underground space and planning its use.
    4. TA is offering the tunnelling industry a forum where it can come together to promote innovation and relevant new technologies. To address all four concerns, ITA has installed committees: the ITA Committee on Operational Safety of Underground Facilities (ITACOSUF), the ITA Committee on Education (ITACET), the ITA Committee on Underground Space (ITACUS) and the ITA Committee on New Technologies (ITAtech)

    Major growth

    ITA has been an observer of the tunnelling industry for 40 years now and since mid-2000 we have seen a major growth in the tunnelling market worldwide. There is now a greater need for new tunnels for infrastructure projects, energy, wastewater and water supply. The growth is taking place globally, with particularly high growth rates in Asia, South America and the Middle East. This growth is supported by increasing urbanisation which has taken place for decades and is foreseen to continue. In the 1950s the urbanisation rate was 30% globally, where it is now over 50% and expected to reach 70% in 2050. At the same time the global population is raising from 2.5bn to 7bn and probably over 9bn in 2050.

    Many new regions of the world began to build tunnels and underground infrastructures to aid the development of urban areas; as necessitated by utilities for water supply and waste water followed a few years later by public transport. The best example is the development of the tunnelling industry in China, with a first boom coming for the preparation of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 and having continuously grown since then. The pace of building tunnels is quite impressive with 6000-8000km of tunnels under construction per year in China.

    This development will continue as the development of mega cities in China is still going on. It has been made possible over the past decades trough the advance of technology which has allowed construction in tunnels in urban areas, and in soft soil with a perfect control of settlements. Also in terms of safety, the construction of tunnels through an increase of mechanisation is one of the safest civil engineering specialties.

    The increasing demand for new tunnels in urban areas often requires tunnels to be built in the more difficult ground conditions, to low cost and a short delivery time. In order for the industry to respond to this demand there is a need to get new developments quickly into the market. ITA is trying to answer this demand through knowledge sharing which has been one of its main activities since the creation of our working groups. This has been emphasised recently with the creation of ITAtech which gathers all partners of the industry to bring and validate new technologies.

    Hydropower and flood prevention

    Major worldwide growth of the tunnelling industry has not only been prompted by the development of urban areas, but by the fact that the hydropower industry has also grown significantly. Many of our newly joined Member Nations are motivated by the development of their hydro power capacities and the need for them to build tunnels (intakes and diversions etc) for their dams and, in many cases, underground power plants. For example, Nepal and Bhutan joined ITA a few years ago and we are now organising regular training sessions on different aspects of tunnelling for them.

    Another important topic in many countries is the prevention of flood. This is the case in many regions of the world, particularly in Europe, the US and also for most countries in South East Asia. ITA is trying to be very active in this regard. We have started cooperation with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and we are part of the campaign Making Our Cities Resilient. Storm storage tunnels have been or are being built in cities like Paris, London, Washington DC, Toronto, Glasgow and Chicago. But one of the most iconic projects was the construction between 2003 and 2006 of the Storm Management and Road Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

    This tunnel’s main objective was to solve flash floods in downtown Kuala Lumpur but is used most of the time as a road tunnel. It has a dual purpose of preventing floods and traffic jams. Following this example Jakarta in Indonesia is proposing a similar infrastructure of a 22km long multi-purpose deep tunnel. A similar idea was developed also in Bangkok after the huge floods that occurred during late 2011. The objective is to offer an alternative to the water coming from the North to reach the sea without flooding the city.

    The use of tunnels and underground space will be even more necessary over the coming years. The development of Africa, where many mega cities have over 5M inhabitants, will require the construction of water supply, waste water and public transport tunnels.
    During its annual congress, the World Tunnel Congress, ITA gathers specialist and experts from all over the world. This year 1500 people met in Iguassu, Brazil. On the sidelines of the congress, many of them were impressed by a visit to the Itaipu hydroelectric plant. Next year our congress will take place in Dubrovnik, Croatia and during the course of a technical session entitled Underground Space and Natural Resources, we will discuss underground space and hydropower.

    As a conclusion we can say that the development of the construction of tunnels and underground spaces will continue in the coming years. The whole industry is working to provide better techniques to be able to cope with new demands and with increased safety, as well as providing better solutions to environmental requirements. ITA is convinced that the use of tunnels and underground space is necessary to cope with growing urbanisation, growing demands for green energy and a better life for everybody.

    The authors are Søren Degn Eskesen, ITA President 2013-2016 and Olivier Vion, ITA Executive Director. http://www.ita-aites.org
    The World Tunnel Congress 2015 will be held from 22-28 May. For more details see http://wtc15.com