Students were given PPE for the tour—and to take home—hardhats, gloves, vests and safety glasses along with a hardhat sticker to remember student day.
Graphic courtesy of the Moles
Would a student who has never seen a tunnel under construction envision a tunneling career? The Moles, a heavy construction leadership group with its roots in tunneling, thinks the answer is “not likely.”
To do something about that, group members started a “Student Day” tour program in the New York City metro area in 1962, and this year expanded to its third region—the mid-Atlantic states. As a Moles member since 2002, I got to go along as a member volunteer.
Student Day first expanded to New England in 2019, and this year drew 150 Boston area students on Sept. 29 to the Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation I-495 and I-90 Improvement Project. Building on many years of working with area schools in the New York-New Jersey region, about 350 students and professors visited New Jersey Transit’s Portal North Bridge site in Kearny, N.J., on Oct. 20. Breaking into the mid-Atlantic region for the first time, about 40 students from three universities toured the RiverRenew Tunnel Project in Alexandria, Va., on Nov. 3.
Students and professors alike showed great enthusiasm: “This was amazing! This was not a tunneling tour, this was a half-day tunneling boot camp,” said Gunnar Lucko, director of the construction engineering and management program at Catholic University of America, who brought a group of students to the event.
One civil engineering student from the school, Joshuan Mensah, said: “Everything was top notch! I learned a lot. We were briefed about the risks, and mitigation strategies they put in place for those risks. We also learned about the opportunities available for us—so it’s a good thing that we came.”
The student tours very specifically help connect students with internships. “We want you to work for our member companies,” said Terry Flynn, chairman of the Moles Education Committee. Student day tours display a QR code that takes participants to a web page with 30 companies seeking summer interns.
The RiverRenew project will prevent millions of gallons of combined sewage each year from polluting local waterways during heavy rains by constructing a deep tunnel and new sewer facilities. The 11,500 ft of bored tunnels, 12 ft in diameter and up to 160 ft deep, will connect to existing outfalls to capture and transport combined sewage to an existing water resource recovery plant operated by Alexandria Renew Enterprises.
AlexRenew awarded the design-build contract to a joint venture of Traylor Bros Inc. and J.F. Shea Co., who developed the project with Jacobs.
Roosevelt Wandjitamosop, a junior at Morgan State University, was fascinated by the tour. “I learned about the process of digging a tunnel, and how after digging down, the work doesn’t affect the structures above. I was excited to see how everything came together from the drawings we saw to the site,” he said.
Moles member Ray Hashimee, vice president of tunneling and underground construction for EPC Consultants, resident engineering and inspection services consultant for the developer, helped organize the tour because it’s critical to reach out to students, he said. “Our industry is in dire need of young talent," he added. "We need to get them excited about heavy construction one student at time. Our investment in the Moles Student Day is worth every penny.”
David Puza, Moles executive director, summed up the day of outreach: “We want to make you part of the heavy construction family," he said. You wind up with friends for life.”
One stop on the tour was a pumping shaft 72 ft in diameter and 145 ft deep that was waterproofed and lined with permanent concrete walls.
Photo by Jan Tuchman/ENR
Students also got to meet one of the Moles 2024 Outstanding Achievement Award winners. Gary Almeraris, vice president of operations for Skanska USA Civil, who was just announced as the member winner, was a volunteer on the tour interacting with students. The Moles calls Almeraris “a quintessential Mole, dedicating 100% of his nearly 50-year, heavy construction career to tunneling.”
The awards, announced Nov. 13, include a nonmember winner as well—James C. “Jim” Maxwell, board chair of Hub Foundation Co. Inc., who put micropiles, drilled shafts and underpinning to work to grow his firm from $1.5 million to $50 million in annual revenue.
The Moles reports that he is known for tackling some of “the most geotechnically challenging projects in New England.”