Nikolai Bobylev, TunnelTalk Russia Correspondent
- Lack of imagination and foresight, confusion over the risks involved with modern underground construction techniques, and calls for comprehensive city planning - including three-dimensional urban masterplans - were among candid discussions at a conference in Saint Petersburg in June. Major underground construction projects in Russia, including the 19.25m bored highway tunnel under the River Neva in the host city, were also discussed in detail as part of the proceedings, reports Nikolai Bobylev for TunnelTalk.
- The Underground City 2012 Forum in Saint Petersburg from 27 to 29 June 2012, was a major event of its kind, aimed at drawing the attention of policy-makers, professionals, and the general public to underground space. The Forum theme, Use of Underground Space as a Public Policy Tool for Sustainable Urbanization, is important for Russia and the world, representing a blend of traditional underground construction issues and different public policy agendas, including sustainable urbanization, socio-economic development, social cohesion and the environment.
- The forum gathered more than 400 participants, representing a variety of professional domains including government bureaucracy, parliament and law, city planning, architecture, economics, the environment, engineering and technology. It offered a one-day plenary session with a concurrent exhibition of urban underground projects and five concurrent technical tracks on the second day comprising city planning; law; environment and energy; technology; and education. Four technical tours were offered on the last day.
- The event was organized by the Association of Underground Builders, which is a non-profit self-governing organization that, according to Russian legislation, has a right and duty to draft norms and standards for respective industries. Director General of the Association and Forum Director Sergey Alpatov, sees his role as more comprehensive, "realizing the full potential of industry and underground space itself, in terms of creating sustainable and livable cities".
Forum discussed sustainable urban development in Russia and globally
- The forum, backed by the Russian Ministry of Regional Development and the Saint Petersburg city authorities, also enjoyed the support of the International Tunnelling and Underground Space Association (ITA), which was represented officially by Oliver Vion, its Executive Director, who gave a keynote address on Underground Space in Megacities. Han Admiraal and Antonia Cornaro, of the ITA's Committee on Underground Space (ITACUS), gave lectures on global challenges for urban development and planning issues related to underground space.
- The Forum offered a comprehensive discussion on the benefits and concerns related to urban underground space use, featuring such eminent scientists as Prof Aurele Parriaux of EPFL of Lausanne, Switzerland; Prof Ray Sterling of the Associated Research Centers for the Urban Underground Space (ACUUS); and Prof Andrew Whittle of MIT, Cambridge, USA. Scientists and experts from 15 countries were present at the forum. Among invited talks were presentations by researchers from the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands (Dr Frank van der Hoeven) and the University of Birmingham, UK (Dr Ian Jefferson), who covered master planning and future research into underground space.
Host city underground aspirations
Saint Petersburg, with a population of about 5 million, has a metro system of some 115km and 63 stations. This is currently insufficient to resolve its transportation problems. The lack of public transit services is becoming especially problematic as the rapid growth of private car ownership adds increasing pressure for an up-to-date urban infrastructure. Vadim Alexandrov, Director General of the Metrostroy Company, and Chairman of the Forum Organizing Committee, stressed the need for an integrated development of underground space in Saint Petersburg, especially in the historic city centre, and spoke about the benefits that underground infrastructure can offer in enabling integration to be realized fully.
Six-lane double-deck Orlovsky Tunnel under the River Neva will deploy the world's largest diameter TBM
- The historic city centre of Saint Petersburg is a UNESCO site of World Heritage and includes the renowned Hermitage Museum and hundreds of other important and iconic buildings and sites that impose special requirements for any new development. Coincidentally, the 36th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee was held in Saint Petersburg during the same period as the forum.
- The Russian Government, at a very top level, has been always cautious about major development projects in the city centre. In fact, city laws restrict the height of new buildings. This leaves underground space as practically the only available place for new facilities and urban infrastructure. This approach was adhered to during construction of a new stage for the famous Mariinsky Opera Theatre. There is a 18m deep x 180m long x 70m wide underground space beneath the new building which is due to open just before Christmas this year (2012).
- The proposed Orlovsky highway tunnel under the River Neva in Saint Petersburg is of particular significance to the international tunnelling industry. It will employ the world's largest diameter TBM at 19.25m, currently on order for design and supply by Herrenknecht AG of Germany. The project was discussed widely during the forum, and from a variety of perspectives.
- The project dates back to the 1990s, when a need to connect the banks of the Neva was identified. A feasibility study and consideration of several design options followed. The most recent option is for a 6,959m tunnel, including the 942m under-river section, to be built using the giant TBM. The tunnel would have two decks of three traffic lanes each, enabling an estimated transit of 60,000 cars per day. The project would be executed as a public private partnership (PPP) through the Nevskaya Concession Company. There is, however, some doubt about the future of the project. City Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, on more than one occasion, has expressed his strong concerns about the project cost: estimated at about €2.7 billion.
- Overall, the forum highlighted the need for strong professional expertise and vision for urban underground space in Russia. Some presentations, by highly ranked bureaucrats from the Russian regions and from Saint Petersburg itself, exposed a lack of understanding for what urban underground infrastructure actually is. Confusion among decision-makers of different ranks was particularly visible when addressing issues of construction risk, and what these risks actually are in relation to modern state-of-the-art technology.
- Further challenges lie ahead for city planning. Jury Miterev, the Chief Architect of Saint Petersburg, criticized developers and engineers for a lack of vision and a tendency to propose standard projects that lack imagination and that are not in keeping with the future development of such a unique city. Sharing the city of Moscow experience, Vladimir Korotajev from the Central Research and Design Institute for Urban Planning, reported a booming development of standalone underground facilities - such as parking garages and commercial space - but a lack of cohesive pedestrian networks or integration with existing public transport infrastructure and the city's metro.
Herrenknecht TBM bored metro escalator decline
- There was a strong call by many experts to maintain cohesion of the urban environment, including calls to avoid major traffic routes cutting communities and municipalities in half (Vladimir Korotajev, Russia, and Dr Frank van der Hoeven, The Netherlands). Prof Andrew Whittle (USA) called for the revitalization of urban communities , while Prof Xiao-Zhao Li (China) called on authorities to provide more public space. Developing this theme, Olivier Vion pointed to concrete examples of how urban underground space can provide solutions for tackling urban problems. Prof Sterling and Antonia Cornaro expressed strong concerns about the need for developing plans for underground space use, including three-dimensional masterplans.
- In essence, the forum highlighted the opportunities that underground space can provide to improve urban life. Implementation of these opportunities seems to be close at hand, at least in key Russian cities where severe traffic congestion problems, caused by recent booms in private car ownership, leave little alternative other than to develop public transportation and underground infrastructure. Significant business opportunities exist in motor transport infrastructure using public, private, and PPP project finance models. Comprehensive use of urban underground infrastructure in public policy, however, seems somewhat distant; the management of urban sustainability through the utilization of underground space remains principally in the theoretical realm for the time being.
- Dr Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN HABITAT, and former Mayor of Barcelona, Spain, visited Saint Petersburg recently on another occasion, and strongly advocated maintaining dense urban communities, as it has proved successful in generating wealth and saving energy. Widely known and accepted, the Compact City concept enjoys a consensus of opinion that a high quality of life, in a high urban density environment, is only possible with the existence of comprehensive underground infrastructure - a principle resolution agreed upon during the forum.
Russia confirms order for largest TBM ever for Orlovsky Tunnel in St Petersburg - TunnelTalk, August 2011
NFM to build EPBM for Moscow metro - TunnelTalk, June 2012
Top down TBM escalator drives in Moscow - TunnelTalk, February 2009
Sochi winning on the Olympics alpine route - TunnelTalk, February 2012
In search of resilient cities - TunnelTalk, December 2011
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