Expert Report

Underground Engineering for Sustainable Urban Development (2013)

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Humans have long relied on underground space for the placement of physical structures that allow our cities and developed areas to function safely. These include building foundations, underground utilities (e.g., power, gas, communications, waste management), transportation (e.g., roads and highways, subways, freight and passenger rail) and their supporting facilities. However, underground infrastructure is rarely engineered in coordination with other underground or surface infrastructure, or in consideration of how it may contribute to the long-term sustainability of society—considerations that will be increasingly important as populations increase, climate changes, and more demands are placed on underground infrastructure.

Underground engineering can promote sustainability if conducted using a more holistic approach to lifecycle planning, construction, and maintenance, and if the underground is considered part the total above- and below ground urban and natural system. Because urban underground space is a nonrenewable resource, a thorough understanding and tracking of the health of its natural and manmade systems is needed to inform broader urban planning. The lack of coordinated management of and support for research and development in underground engineering undermines US leadership in this field and jeopardizes the ability of city planners to meet sustainability goals. This report offers a new multidisciplinary framework for research, education, and training to prepare a domestic workforce with that capacity.