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What’s at the End of the Tunnel? A Cleaner Potomac River, That’s What

Work begins on Alexandria’s largest infrastructure project, which will reduce overflow events and create healthier waterways.

Pictured: Jacobs teammates attend groundbreaking ceremony - from left to right  Dan Lynch, Samer Sadek, Paula Sanjines, Ned Johnson, Mark Johnson, Rich Voigt.

An innovative tunnel system and the largest infrastructure project in the City of Alexandria, Virginia’s history has its first shovel in the ground. On September 30, 2021, officials from Alexandria Renew Enterprises (AlexRenew), Alexandria’s regional wastewater authority, and City officials gathered on the banks of the Potomac River at the future location of the Outfall 001 drop shaft and diversion structures to celebrate the beginnings of a construction project that was envisioned when AlexRenew assumed ownership of the City’s combined sewer outfalls in 2018. The event included a groundbreaking ceremony, a performance from The City of Alexandria Pipes and Drum, and a formal announcement by the Alexandria town crier.

AlexRenew General Manager and CEO Karen Pallansch addresses the crowd
AlexRenew General Manager and CEO Karen Pallansch addresses the crowd. Photo credit: Theogenic Photography

“When the work is done in 2025, this area will be a beautiful promenade, which will connect the Alexandria community to the cleaner Potomac River” said Karen Pallansch, AlexRenew General Manager and CEO at the groundbreaking.

Mayor Justin Wilson also attended the groundbreaking, sharing, “This is a home run. We are very excited. Throughout our history there has always been a tension between the short-term politics and the urgency of tomorrow and long-term investment in our basic infrastructure, but we are here to celebrate today the urgency of tomorrow prevailing, the need to make these large investments in not only our basic infrastructure but our environment, for our children, for our grandchildren, because this is a project that will have multi-generational impact.”

The ultimate goal of the RiverRenew Tunnel System Project? A cleaner, healthier Potomac River. How will the team achieve it? With a 2 mile (3.2 kilometer) long, 12 foot (3.9 meter) internal diameter tunnel, two drop shafts to channel flow into the tunnel, a deep pump station and other sewer infrastructure that’s created with a really cool state-of-the-art tunnel boring machine to simultaneously excavate and construct the tunnel.

This tunnel system will capture, store and transport millions of gallons of sewage and stormwater to a treatment plant where it will be cleaned and treated before being returned to the Potomac River.

In November 2020, the AlexRenew Board awarded the $450+ million RiverRenew Tunnel System Project design-build contract to Traylor-Shea Joint Venture (TSJV), with Jacobs playing a critical role as the design consultant for TSJV, responsible for technical leadership, management and delivery of design.

What is RiverRenew?

RiverRenew arose in response to a 2017 Virginia law that requires the city to overhaul its combined sewer system, which has been discharging 130 million gallons of raw sewage into the river annually. Starting in 2018, the program must be completed by 2025. Jacobs has worked with AlexRenew for more than 20 years, and currently have two Basic Ordering Agreements to perform Liquids and Solids tasks at the plant, as well as SCADA work.

Together with our partners, we bring an unmatched knowledge of AlexRenew’s facilities, local team members who are focused on collaborating with the community and its stakeholders, and operations expertise for reliable, sustainable performance.

Tune in for more about RiverRenew in our recent “In the kNOW” webinar featuring Karen Pallansch and other industry leaders in a discussion with Jacobs exploring the role of water infrastructure projects as catalysts for urban revitalization.

View of the Potomac River
View of the Potomac River

We’re invested in our community

Mark Johnson, our Project Design Director, is a local resident.

“I understand the importance of these CSO tunnel projects to local communities and the environment that we live in,” Mark shares. “As a resident of Northern Virginia, I am particularly invested in the RiverRenew project and am fully committed to working with TSJV and AlexRenew to ensure that we collectively deliver a legacy project that the local community is proud of.”

Over 90% of the work is anticipated to be conducted by firms based in Alexandria or the greater Washington metropolitan area.

Dan Lynch, our Client Account Manager, has worked with AlexRenew for more than 20 years to deliver $400 million of infrastructure improvements at their treatment plant.

“Our partnership with AlexRenew since 1997 has been based on trust and responsiveness,” explains Dan. “We have served AlexRenew with a strong local team, backed by our top technologists around the firm. We have brought numerous innovations such as step-feed nitrogen removal and sidestream Anammox treatment. AlexRenew is a visionary utility, always wanting to lead the industry and then share their experiences to advance industry practices. The client and the cool projects we have delivered for them have provided a great platform to grow our staff in many technology areas, in project management, and in client service.”

Bringing cutting edge simulation models

The project will also leverage Jacobs’ expertise in Digital Twins (learn more), which are simulation models with predictive capabilities to test operational changes, train operators, and more.

We’ll be creating a digital twin specifically for this project to train operators, experiment with new operating scenarios, and use for public outreach and education. We’ll also leverage our Replica™ platform for hydraulics, controls, and process modeling. Read more about our leadership in digital solutions.

A commitment to sustainability

Our team recognizes our client’s strong commitment to sustainability, as demonstrated by our previous work to obtain Envision Platinum certification level for AlexRenew’s Nutrient Management Facility. The facility was the first in Virginia and only one of 11 in North America to achieve Envision’s top distinction. The RiverRenew project is continuing that commitment to sustainability by targeting Silver level certifications under both LEED and Envision systems.

“This (Envision) award shows that wastewater utilities don’t have to be invisible to the communities they serve, but instead, can, and should, be active partners in creating livable and resilient cities,” commented Karen Pallansch of the Nutrient Management Facility’s certification. “We’re fortunate to serve customers and work alongside community partners who value sustainability and support efforts like this that have such a positive impact on our local waterways."

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