The Infrastructurists: Building the Massive Public Projects

Infrastructure. You’ve probably read news pieces over the past decade about how how it’s seemingly crumbling around us. Streets and highways falling apart, decrepit bridges ready to collapse, buildings teetering on disintegrating.

But at the same time, projects are still being engineered and built–many of them with the help of equipment designed with PTC Creo. We think that’s a good enough reason to celebrate some of the biggest, raddest, and most interesting projects of the recent past.

The Big Dig

The Big Dig in Boston, also known as the less sexier “Central Artery/Tunnel Project,” took years to build, rerouted traffic daily, overran its budget, had many design flaws, and won’t be paid off until decades from now. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the project was an engineering marvel. By removing the existing highway – built in the 1950s that cut right through old neighborhoods – and putting it beneath the city, neighborhoods once connected were reconnected, a new parkway was built, and complementary projects were added.


Temporary supports hold up elevated Central Artery during construction. ArnoldReinhold—Wikimedia commons

To make sure the tunnel was safe, without comprising the existing elevated highway, engineers designed horizontal braces that were as wide as the tunnel, cut away the elevated highway’s struts, and then lowered it onto the new braces.

If you want to see the what driving through Boston looked like before the Big Dig, take a look at this “nostalgic” clip:

Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People

This just-completed project in Portland, Ore., is a cable-stayed bridge that crosses the Willamette River to connect the east and west sides. It allows for light rail, busses, streetcar and pedestrians. But not private cars. The bridge is a hybrid between a traditional cable-stayed layout and an extradosed bridge, with two towers and two landside piers.


Michael Dunn-Wikimedia Commons

Engineering was tricky, including “optimizing the foundation system by reducing the number and size of drilled shafts and providing an alternative structural basis for mitigation of liquefaction that removed the need to stabilize the soil on the west approach.” In other words, it was engineered to cross the middle of a deep, moving river with unstable, muddy shores.

Transportation aside, the really cool thing about the new bridge is its light show. There are 178 LED lights placed on the bridge’s cables, the four transmission towers above and below the deck. The lights change colors based on the river’s speed, height, and water temperature, from data collected by a U.S. Geological Survey river monitor. It’s the new gem of Portland’s skyline.

This timelapse footage illustrates the bridge’s construction:

Three Gorges Dam

This damn is the grand dame of infrastructure and was on the books in some form since the early part of the last century (so, if you’re waiting for approval on a project, this could be good – or bad – news).

Made of concrete and steel, the dam spans 7,661 feet long, while the top of the dam is 607 feet above sea level. Materials included wire rods, structural steel, stainless steel plates, sheets, strips, and pipes.

Despite its human-scale issues (oh, like millions of people being displaced), the dam will not only act as a power source but also increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity. It puts the mega in mega project.


The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, China. Source: Le Grand Portage-Wikipedia

The NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel

The NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel, when it opens to the public this summer, will transport passengers from Zurich to Milan in two hours and 50 minutes, shaving almost an hour off the current travel time.


By Hannes Ortlieb

Measuring 35 miles, it surpasses Japan’s 14.5-mile Seikan Tunnel. More than 2,000 workers were enlisted to excavate more than two million truck loads of earth from as deep as 8,000 below the surface of the earth using two 1000-ton tunnel borers. Mega-awesome.


The Pollegio Control Centre (south portal) with a used tunnel boring machine on display. By NAC -Wikipedia.

Big Projects Need Big Machinery

Many of the massive machines that make these mega projects possible in the physical world are first designed with PTC Creo. In fact, Caterpillar and John Deere were among our earliest adopters. Here are just a couple of other movers and shakers that have been on our radar recently:

  • India Metal One Processing (aka IMOP) melts, cuts and processes steel plates for construction machinery manufacturers. The team uses PTC Creo Parametric for design, along with NC sheet metal and simulation extensions to ensure the most effective and manufacturable designs. The company’s Sr. CAD CAM engineer says “PTC Creo enables us to reduce our design cycle time by 25%.”
  • Herrenknecht built the monster tunnel boring machines used on the NEAT Gotthard Base Tunnel. See more about the company and project here.

Whether it’s digging big, designing carless bridges that light up at night, or dams that move the earth, infrastructure development is alive and well all over the world. We can’t wait to see what future projects will emerge next.

[Ed. Infrastructure can take on many forms – from large municipal projects to small (but just as important) ones like pedestrian bridges. Inspired to design your own project? Read more about PTC customers and the remarkable engineering challenges they conquer every day by visiting our Case Studies page.]

Quick Links

Resource center

PTC University
Training options

Find a class