DOT awards $7.5M to Mines for transportation research

Colorado School of Mines has received a $7.5 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a University Transportation Center (UTC), focused on improving the durability and lifespan of underground transportation.

James R. Paden Distinguished Professor Marte Gutierrez from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is the lead on this interdisciplinary project that draws on the expertise and reputation of Mines’ Center for Underground Construction and Tunneling (UC&T).

“This is such a huge win for Mines,” said Professor Mike Mooney, the Bruce Grewcock University Chair and Director of UC&T. “This is the first U.S. DOT funded center at Mines and the first ever U.S. DOT center focused on underground infrastructure. This effort will build upon the strong foundation of UC&T at Mines and cements UC&T and Mines as the number one place in the world for underground construction and tunneling research and education.”   

In collaboration with affiliate partners, California State University, Los Angeles and Lehigh University, the new center includes research, education and outreach to make underground construction and transportation safer, more sustainable and more cost-efficient.

“We are running out of land, especially in urban areas. The only way to meet increased demand for transportation is to go underground,” explained Gutierrez. “Underground transportation and infrastructure is key to reducing congestion and pollution.”

UC&T graduate students explore an underground construction site.

The center hopes to work closely with industry leaders to develop advanced technologies that would avoid the problems that often extend the time and cost of underground construction. “Our goal is to help the construction industry,” said Gutierrez, “by providing tools, methodologies and technology for underground construction. We want to partner with the industry so that we can apply our findings, as well as offer continuing education courses—that’s how technology transfer really happens.”

Mines’ UC&T, started in 2011 with generous initial support from Mines alumnus Bruce Grewcock, has been leading efforts toward a more adaptive design system in the field of underground construction and tunneling. Boreholes and geological/geophysical surveys provide limited information on ground conditions until excavation starts. Predicted responses often differ from the reality once a project is underway. Gutierrez is proposing the use of adaptive computational modeling to align design with the site-specific geology. 

“We want to exploit the new knowledge we gain every time we excavate,” said Gutierrez. “The design must adapt. As we improve our understanding of the site’s geology, the design also improves, ultimately avoiding the unexpected high costs and extended timelines that can occur when the natural and built environments do not match.”

The center will also look at extending the life of existing aging infrastructures and how transportation infrastructure can best be repaired with the least impact on congestion. Ultimately, with cooperation from industry, the UTC at Mines will lead to increased safety, reliability and sustainability in underground transportation infrastructures.

“Marte has done such a fantastic job leading the successful proposal effort and now leading a great cross-campus interdisciplinary team,” said Mooney, referencing the diverse expertise of the faculty members who are involved in the project: professors Hugh Miller, Jurgen Brune, Rennie Kaunda and Department Head Priscilla Nelson from Mining Engineering; Andrei Swidinsky from Geophysics; as well as the Co-PIs: Gabriel Walton and Wendy Zhou from Geology, Eunhye Kim from Mining, and Reza Hedayat, Panos Kiousis, and Shiling Pei from Civil and Environmental Engineering—in addition to Mooney and Gutierrez.

Mooney added, “The Mines community of current students and alumni out there shaping the future of underground infrastructure should all be very proud.”   

 

CONTACT:

Deirdre Keating, Communications Manager, College of Engineering & Computational Sciences | 303-384-2358 | dkeating@mines.edu
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 | aspurgeon@mines.edu