What Lies Beneath

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Electromagnetic Location (EML) and Building Information Modelling (BIM) are being extensively used to geolocate below the surface utility networks and hidden construction, reduce engineering risks and build a 3D map to aid surface and subsurface construction.

All construction projects require the geolocation of subsurface utility networks before and during the construction workflow. It is a crucial part of designing, planning, construction and maintenance of any project above the surface. Hidden subsurface utility networks have historically endangered the lives of many people. For construction owners and excavators, lack of information about the presence, nature and location of subsurface networks often creates a challenging situation.

Until two decades ago, there was no way of creating a 3D model of the infrastructure lying beneath our roads and pavements. In recent years, however, technology advancements have helped in subsurface utility engineering (SUE) for the intricate networks of underground cables, pipelines, tunnels, etc. to reduce inefficiencies and build a real-time 3D map of the subsurface. “It is important to look at the entire lifecycle of building an infrastructure. Often when we look at the entire models, in very few cases you actually see the subsurface utilities mapped. In my interaction with the surveyors, especially the utility surveyors, actually that’s one of the biggest headaches or challenges out there – to combine the two worlds – surface and subsurface,” says Katherine Broder, President Construction Tools Division, Leica Geosystems.

November 1896, Boston: Inspired by the subsurface tunnel constructions of the European countries, the industrial and trade cities of America, New York and Boston, tussled with each other to be the first in the race to move people under the busy streets. Boston won the race, and the city officials began the designing, planning and construction of ‘America’s first Subway’ at the Boylston station on the Tremont Street and Park Street under the Boston Commons in 1896.

Albeit the strategic engineering and construction plans, the construction of the Boston subway system came with its challenges — navigating and excavating subsurface buried utilities and ageing subsurface infrastructure. The unavailability of accurate subsurface infrastructure maps intensified the dangerous roadblocks engineers and surveyors faced in the construction process. One such roadblock occurred in the form of the infamous Tremont Street Gas Explosion, 1987, adjacent to the Boston Commons and the subway construction. The explosion created multiple debates with the common man protesting the planning and construction of any future subway station and the Boston’s Big Dig project. The need for digital mapping of existing and complex utility systems, gravesites, subsurface infrastructure — was, thus, established.

Construction of Boylston station on the Tremont Street Subway under Boston Common in 1896

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