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Borer for 5-Mile TX Tunnel Revealed

Monday, December 9, 2019

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Last week, the City of Dallas unveiled “Big Tex,” a tunnel-boring machine slated to dig a 5-mile-long tunnel under the city that intends to provide flood protection for 100 years.

Living up to its name, Big Tex measures 38 feet in diameter and is 230 feet long.

About the Project

According to reports, parts of east and southeast Dallas have been prone to historic flooding, causing city council members to debate solutions for the reoccurring issue for decades. In 2003, 2006 and 2012 voters were reported to approve bond funding for the Mill Creek/Peaks Branch/State-Thomas Drainage Relief Tunnel project. However, land acquisition and design issues prolonged the construction’s final approval.

After various project audits and bid requests, Dallas City Council awarded a contract worth over $200 million to Southland Mole Joint Venture (Fort Worth, Texas) in 2016. Shortly after, then-City Auditor Craig Kinton issued a report claiming that the process was mismanaged after one company, which had been slated to be a subcontractor in the project, was found to be involved in a Dallas corruption scandal and was disqualified.

The city rebid the project in 2017 and again, awarded Southland Mole. The following year, local news NBC 5 reported that members of the city council had approved final construction plans for the tunnel unanimously after years of delay and controversy. Most of the money necessary for the work is slated to come from a 2012 bond referendum, while another portion comes from bond money received in 2006.

By June 2019, 26-foot-tall sound barriers were reported to already surround four of the project’s outfall sites. A measure that Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry says will help minimize impacts to local residents and surrounding commercial properties.

What’s Happening Now

Big Tex will be working on what is reportedly the largest hard-rock tunneling project in the world. Over the next two months, however, the tunnel-borer will be taken apart, picked up by crane, transported down the project’s shaft and reassembled underground.

Project manager Nick Jencopale told The Dallas Morning News that during the first assembly process, crews tested every nut and bolt that went into the many pieces that make up the machine.

“The completion of the TBM assembly marks a major milestone in the Mill Creek Tunnel Project,” said Council Member Lee Kleinman, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I’m thrilled to see this type of engineering marvel happening right here in Dallas.”

Once fully operational, Big Tex will use its spinning head to cut a 5-mile path stretching from Uptown Dallas, near Woodall Rodgers Freeway, to White Rock Creek and Barber Avenue in South Dallas through rock 120 to 170 feet below the city’s surface.

The endeavor is slated to protect roughly 2,200 properties over 3,200 acres, and will be capable of withstanding a maximum of 9 million gallons of water per minute to prevent flooding during heavy rain.

During construction, Big Tex will run 24 hours a day, though officials promise the construction will have minimal impact on neighborhoods located above the tunnel’s route.

“There will be minimal utility relocation as well as minimal street and traffic impacts given the size and significance of this project, which is very important," Al-Ghafry said at the project’s recent news conference.

As for the 1.5 million cubic yards of rock the tunnel’s construction will displace, Rachel Sackett, Director of Marketing for Southland Holdings, the parent company over the tunneling contractor, added that the city intends to recycle the materials as fill for other projects, while the rest will be sent to other city- and county-approved sites.

SMJV plans to hire over 300 employees for work on the Mill Creek Tunnel Project. Black & Veatch is serving as the contruction manager for the drainage relief tunnel project while Halff Associates is the designer of the project.

The project is expected to be complete by fall 2023 and will cost $300 million.


Tagged categories: drainage; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Tunnel

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