Development of an integrated value-based decision-support framework for sustainability assessment of urban underground utility infrastructure engineering projects

Hojjati, Aryan ORCID: 0000-0002-2928-5025 (2020). Development of an integrated value-based decision-support framework for sustainability assessment of urban underground utility infrastructure engineering projects. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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As a direct result of global population increase, mainly within urban areas, underground utility infrastructure (UUI) systems play a crucial and pivotal role. As such, UUIs must ensure that they are sustainable and through this help urban environments both to be more resilient and maintain appropriate functionality whatever the future may bring. The direct economic costs of underground utility streetworks – placement, installation, upgrading and maintenance activities – are significantly greater if the wider environmental and social impacts are also considered. Alternative engineering practices to the conventional open-cut trenching (OCT) methods, including various trenchless technologies (TTs) and different types of underground utility tunnels and conduits can be used to minimise these costs and associated wider impacts. However, in urban areas, OCT remains the conventional widely utilised method of utility streetworks by urban professionals. The method which is largely driven by short-term cost considerations and ultimately leads to much higher overall lifetime costs. To date there is still no effective way to robustly assess the true total costs and hence decision makers are still failing to make informed longer-term decisions.

To address this important agenda, there is a need for holistic decision-making systems which incorporate sustainability criteria and evaluation methodologies. The research presented in this thesis provides the basis for such evaluations by developing a bespoke integrated value-based decision-support framework for sustainability assessment of UUI streetworks projects. This novel proof-of-concept hybrid framework, which consists of the modified pre-appraisal sustainable project appraisal routine (SPeAR®) tool, and the analytic network process (ANP) multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) technique, was supported through extensive consultation with a wide range of industry experts, by testing and through the evaluation of the developed framework using a number of case studies both in the UK and in the Netherlands. The results of the case study analyses demonstrate the strong long-term sustainable performance of multi-utility tunnels (MUTs) compared to OCT, particularly when implemented in congested urban areas. This provided the solid evidence base allowing this work to demonstrate that although industry stakeholders still put more emphasis on short-term direct economic costs, when making decisions to choose the engineering solution for underground utility projects, a holistic assessment of both short-term and long-term impacts of utility streetworks methods across all three pillars of sustainability provides a much better performance indication for future-proofed alternatives. For example, MUTs. Through this allows better informed investment decisions for next generation utility infrastructure projects to be made.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Engineering & Physical Sciences
School or Department: School of Engineering, Department of Civil Engineering
Funders: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Subjects: T Technology > TA Engineering (General). Civil engineering (General)


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