Reaching New Heights: Groundbreaking Infrastructure Projects Around the World

America's infrastructure construction

Infrastructure plays a critical role in the built environment as we rely on roads, highways, and tunnels to connect people and keep goods moving safely around the world.

In support of Infrastructure Week, we are taking a virtual trip around the globe to spotlight sustainable and innovative infrastructure projects that are setting a new standard for designing and building roads, highways, railways, dams, and water treatment facilities. 

While technology is one part of the equation in creating these notable projects, the other half is the leading teams pushing the envelope for conceptualizing the smart and sustainable ideas that ensure the infrastructure supports the greater need of the community.

Here are three influential projects setting the bar high for what’s possible through technology innovation in infrastructure.

1: The Collins Park Water Treatment Plant, Toledo, Ohio

We begin our journey in the United States in Toledo, Ohio, a city home to more than 276,000 people. 

In 2014, Toledo was catapulted into the public eye when a harmful algal bloom produced microcystin. This toxin can cause stomach sickness, skin and eye irritation, respiratory issues, and in a worst-case scenario, liver failure, and caused a “do not drink” advisory under the recommendation of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for three days.

To protect from any substantial amount of toxic microcystin found in the city’s drinking water in the future, the city’s department of utilities invested $1 billion into improving the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant.

Arcadis, a leading global design and consultancy firm for natural and built assets, was tasked with the modernization and expansion of Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant. The firm was contracted to deliver two new water basins, adding 40 million gallons of capacity per day, while coordinating across other system upgrades and keeping the facility operational during construction.

To deliver an upgraded water system for Toledo’s residents that could handle contamination and remain operational during repairs and maintenance of the other six aging basins, Arcadis used cloud-based construction management tools to connect project teams to stay on schedule.

2: The Afsluitdijk Dam, Netherlands

Making our way into Europe, our second stop is the Afsluitdijk, a 32-kilometer dam, which has been a hallmark of Dutch hydraulic engineering for more than 85 years. The dam protects a large portion of the Netherlands from the Wadden Sea and regulates the water level in Lake Ijsselmeer, Holland’s biggest lake. 

In an effort to strengthen and reinforce the Afsluitdijk from the threats posed by climate change, Levvel - a consortium made up of Van Oord Aberdeen Infrastructure Partners B.V., BAM PPP PGGM Infrastructure Coöperatie U.A. and EPICo NL 2 B.V - set out to fortify the Afsluitdijk.

This impressive infrastructure project is an example of protective and preventive damage control, incorporating ecological and recreational components. Project planners have implemented the latest technology to work collaboratively and efficiently to strengthen the enclosure dam, increase its capacity to discharge water, and build pumps to transport water into the sea. The team was also mindful of the government’s ambition to reduce the CO2 footprint on construction projects. 

To meet the safety and environmental requirements for flood defense, the team developed innovative levvel-blocs. These interlocking blocks were manufactured offsite, transported through marine transportation, and can withstand strong waves and high storm surge levels.

The grand scale of the Afsluitdijk reinforcement is unique for the Netherlands. It represents the latest developments in rising sea levels, water safety, ecology, and sustainability while building a safe and secure dam using state-of-the-art design and building software.

Learn more about the innovative design and construction of the Afsluitdijk in the documentary, Rising to the Challenge: Afsluitdijk to see how industry leaders developed concepts to address building resilient infrastructure for future inhabitants. 

3: City Rail Link, Auckland, New Zealand

Rounding out our trip is the City Rail Link project located in Auckland, New Zealand.

Auckland, the most populous urban area in the country, is home to more than 1.6 million people. To meet the growing demand of riders entering the city center, the Link Alliance - a consortium made up of designers, engineers, contractors, and the client - partnered together to design, engineer, construct, and deliver the largest transportation project ever delivered in New Zealand. 

“City Rail Link is an ambitious, first-of-its-kind project for New Zealand. It will not only make a huge impact on our transportation system but will also provide new standards and inroads for the use of BIM throughout the country,” says Jon Varndell, Design Director, Link Alliance.

Located in the city’s center, the rail line is 3.5 kilometers long with a twin tunnel and three stations, including two new stations underground and an existing station above ground. The project team is also ambitiously aiming for an Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) rating of 15% reduction in embodied carbon, 25% reduction in energy CO2 emissions, and reduced waste to landfill and construction/operational water use. 

As the country’s first underground train system, the team needed to take a digital approach to coordinate design across multidisciplinary teams located in 30 countries to ensure the City Rail Link connects with the existing system. Using a digital environment, the team was able to collaborate in a prescriptive and meaningful way to meet the tight delivery schedule.

For the team’s innovative approach, the project won a 2020 AEC Excellence Award.

The Power of Infrastructure and What’s Next

Infrastructure plays a vital role in our society, from protecting our environment to the roads and rails we travel to the water we drink. But technology is the catalyst behind bringing the ideas and concepts to life that help infrastructure reach new heights and support the growing population.  

Learn more about the future of infrastructure and how firms are working together to invest in the future. 

Lauren Ginsberg

Construction Content Marketing Manager, Autodesk Construction Solutions