UTC-UTI: Tunneling A New Pathway for Engineers

Many Mines’ students have taken the trek from campus to the ski resorts in Summit County.

The trip requires risking life and limb and the possibility of manual transmissions failing, but once the entrance to the Eisenhower Tunnel comes into view, it is smooth sailing from there. The tunnel stretches for almost two miles at over 11,000 feet, making it one of the highest tunnels in the world.

Tunnels like the Eisenhower exist all over the world; they require the skills from civil, geological, and mining engineering, and even geophysics.

Fortunately, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) has just given a $7.5 million grant to Mines to teach students about tunneling with the new University Transportation Center for Underground Transportation Infrastructure, or the UTC-UTI, the first of its kind in the United States.

After President Obama passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation  (FAST) Act in 2015, the USDOT granted Mines the money to establish the first underground University Transportation Center in the United States.

Dr. Marte Gutierrez, J. R. Paden Chair and Distinguished Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, is among the leading faculty for the new Underground Tunneling Center (UTC) and is excited to begin working with students in tunneling research and development, such as real-time remote mapping and analysis. He also hopes to develop methods that prevent fire, explosions, or fractures, which are the greatest hazards for tunnels.

“We want to make them more durable,” said Gutierrez on the current state of the world’s tunnels. “We want to make them last longer, we want them to be more reliable, we want them to cost less, we want them to be sustainable.”

Tunnels are a very sustainable option compared to other transportation structures.

According to Gutierrez, tunnels are a reliable option for reducing congestion, which reduces travel time, in turn reducing fossil fuel emissions and urban sprawl.

They are also useful for preserving landscape that would otherwise become developed.

It is a truly revolutionary undertaking, with Mines as the lead institution with collaboration from California State University Los Angeles and Lehigh University.

The project’s primary objectives are to develop technology to enhance the durability and life extension of existing Underground Transportation Infrastructure (UTI), educate the next generation of tunneling engineers, and transfer the UTC’s research and technology to industry and other organizations and agencies.

The program currently has thirteen faculty from civil, mining, and geological engineering, as well as geophysics, and funds eight graduate students.

“We are looking for graduate students and students who are interested in research experience with graduate students and faculty,” stated Gutierrez.

Gutierrez sees the UTC-UTI as an opportunity for civil, geological, mining, and geophysics majors to be involved in a unique and rewarding aspect of engineering.

“I do believe this is one of the more stable jobs for civil engineering in the future,” stated Gutierrez. “If you want to travel, and you want to be involved in a project that has significant impact and work on landmark projects, tunneling is one of the few remaining.”

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