Trenchless Technology Canada Point of View: Pilot Projects…A Municipal Challenge

Jonathan Pearce Waterloo


Let’s begin by providing some perspective and background. I work for a municipality and have done so for 32 years. I was present at the beginning of the Centre for Advancement of Trenchless Technology (CATT) in 1994 and have been involved in trenchless projects and taught courses, delivered seminars and papers on trenchless over the years.

At no point have I ever expressed the thought that trenchless is ‘the answer.’ I firmly hold the belief that knowledge and education are key components, and if your toolbox is expanded to include trenchless options/tools, decisions can be made that are logical, prudent, efficient, sustainable and financially responsible… can choose the right tool for the job.

All technologies/developments start with an idea….what I call a ‘Eureka!’ moment and from that starting point, the idea, the practicality, the do-ability will begin to evolve. Objectives and goals will be set, timelines drawn, prototypes developed…and re-developed, and trials begun. Trials lead to evaluation, analysis, discussion, support and identification of what orked…and what didn’t work quite as planned (not the same as failure!)
Pilot experiments are the next step in selling a product or process and provide quantitative proof whether the system has the potential to succeed on a full-scale basis.

Trenchless work has the potential to save money, let’s say a nominal 40 per cent of cost for the sake of argument. It is unfortunate that our society wants to tie everything to a monetary dollar. The truth of the matter is there are other costs associated with the construction industry not tied to the dollar, and I am referring to things such as time, environmental and social costs, and it is in these areas where urban centres and municipalities will realize the true benefits. Knowledge and education are cornerstones.

Some of the problems that attach themselves to municipalities are that they are home to territorialism and subjectivity. Protectionism of how things have been done in the past abounds. Participation in experimental work or pilot projects is only seen from a cost -perspective side with pressure being brought to bear by politicians, the taxpaying public, the naysayers, internal work groups, finance departments, etc.

The City of Waterloo, where I work, is somewhat of an anomaly in this mix, as it has actively supported the CATT group, pilot projects and advancing and increasing the knowledge base that surrounds the trenchless industry with the hope of reaping the benefits and moving the industry forward. Technologies must get used to enable further development.

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The big problem is not everyone wants to contribute. Many municipalities want to benefit from the risks taken, and the contributions of others without participating themselves. There are those who will look for reasons why an idea won’t work, a negative outlook, instead of why it will and the benefits that can be reaped with further development.

We live, work and play in what I have sometimes referred to as the McDonald’s society, where all things are delivered in a neat package, almost instantly, with no loose ends. This approach may work in the fast-food industry, but falls far short just about everywhere else!

…and now for the CHALLENGE!

It should be incumbent on every municipality to contribute, because every municipality has the potential to benefit significantly from advancements in thought, processes and technologies, and pilot projects bring innovation and a solution-based outlook forward.

Our buried infrastructure is at a critical stage and needs different, innovative solutions to assist in addressing some of the complex problems that are being encountered. Municipalities have a responsibility to share in the risk that accompanies the development of new ideas because, simply put, they will be the beneficiaries! The list of winners is extensive: system owners, tax payers, work groups, developers, commuters, property and business owners, technology providers, municipalities, etc.

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The SOLUTION is to assemble like-minded supporters and system owners who see the potential benefits of new ideas that lead to pilot projects, who will in turn share some of the risk and cost involved.

Evaluation criteria will be established and organizations such as CATT, the Trenchless Technology Center (TTC) at Louisiana Tech, Center for Underground Infrastructure Research and Education (CUIRE) and University of Alberta’s Consortium for Engineered Trenchless Technologies (CETT), for example, can provide third-party analysis and reports. Stakeholder groups can then evaluate reports and input further direction.

This calls ultimately for a shift in responsibility and acceptance that if we are going to get through the challenges presented by our aging infrastructure, we must all, municipalities, engineers, contractors, suppliers, providers, become more active contributors to innovative and progressive solutions.
Jonathan Pearce is an inspector and project manager for the City of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. He is past chair of the Centre for Advancement of Trenchless Technologies (CATT) and is a member of the CATT Seminar Committee.
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