Posts Tagged: infrastructure

Scott Butler and Good Roads ready to team up with U of T for a better Ontario

The Civil Engineering Industry Advisory Board (IAB) is an integral link in supporting and strengthening the Department’s relationships with key industries, fostering increased collaborative research, enhancing student experiential learning opportunities and increasing industry engagement. 

Our IAB is comprised of a group of experienced industry professionals who are all committed to the advancement of our students, faculty and the Department. 

We recently caught up with IAB member Scott Butler who is the Executive Director of Good Roads. 

What do you specialize in?  

As an organization, Good Roads is responsible for municipal transportation and infrastructure needs. I think my specialty as a non-engineer is translating the technical concerns of engineers into the consideration of councils and senior management with local governments.  

What career project are you most proud of?  

I was responsible for getting the new Municipal Asset Management Planning Regulation brought into effect. This was the culmination of a five-year advocacy campaign with various ministries at Queen’s Park. I think it has fundamentally changed the approach to infrastructure stewardship in Ontario and really puts us on a path to becoming world leaders in terms of maintaining and financing infrastructure assets.  

Why did you want to join the IAB?  

I felt it was an opportunity to understand and get some exposure to private sector considerations. I think municipalities tend to look at things almost from a service provision point of view and the perspective of private actors can be lost in that conversation where you’re not able to find common ground. I think it’s really important, and for us, our membership of Good Roads is comprised of 440 of the 444 municipalities, plus another 30 First Nations in Ontario, and being able to understand and operate in a space where those private sector interests, those academic interests and where those public interests come together, being able to find common ground in that space is really fundamental to success.

How can somebody in the Department, faculty or students, take advantage of their connection to you? 

Scott Butler carrying the Olympic torch.

Scott Butler carrying the Olympic torch in the run up to the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Well, there are a couple of different ways. We have engineers on staff who are always looking at emerging processes of emerging technologies. If there’s something that is coming up where there’s direct application to linear assets like roads, sewers or water mains, certainly we’d be prepared to assist in terms of connecting researchers, faculty and grad students with municipalities who are the primary custodians of a lot of these assets.  

We’ve also entered research partnerships in the past. It’s always something we’re prepared to do, particularly when that interface between private, public and academic realities can be found.  

It’s an interesting model having this advisory committee to understand how both public and private interests interact with academia. I think that it’s a really great opportunity to be associated with a world class research institution. 

What would you be doing right now if you weren’t the executive director at Good Roads? 

I think in my misbegotten youth, I had dreams of either pushing the ball up in the backcourt for the Detroit Pistons or possibly patrolling the right wing for Crystal Palace in the Premiership, but neither of those came to fruition.  

But seriously, I love my job right now and I’m always thinking about how I can make the best use of this opportunity I’ve been given here…unlike all those long begotten professional soccer and basketball dreams.  

What’s something that a lot of people don’t know about you?

I have carried the Olympic torch three times. Besides the Vancouver games in 2010, I carried it for the Calgary Games in ‘88, which is a clear indication of how old I am.

Learn more about Civil Engineer’s Industry Advisory Board

By David Goldberg 

WATCH: Crew moves Shell Element Tester in Structures Lab

Major renovation of CivMin’s Structural Testing Facility starts with the impressive one-day move of the Shell Element Tester 

One of the biggest lab renovations in University of Toronto’s history is underway.  

Last Friday, the Shell Element Tester (SET) was moved in preparation for further construction in the Structural Testing Facility that the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering operates in the Galbraith and Sanford Fleming Buildings.  

The first stage was a massive undertaking.  

With snow coming down hard, a flatbed truck carrying a forklift rolled up to the loading dock just after 8 a.m.  

The forklift was craned in and lowered onto the facility floor. Then, using a specialized team and equipment, the SET was raised off the floor, pulled back from its original position, rotated 180 degrees, and relocated 10 meters to the north wall of the facility.  

Crews wrapped up work by late afternoon.

Department Chair Prof. Brent Sleep remarks on the significance of this stage of the process.

“After many months of planning, it is exciting to see this first step in the development of our scale multi-dimensional testing facility. This state-of-the art facility will help our professors, students, and industry partners address some of the most challenging problems in structural resilience under extreme conditions. ”

The SET is a one-of-a-kind 60-tonne steel frame with 40 hydraulic actuators. 

This is the second time the machine has moved since it was commissioned. The last time was following a 2008 renovation. 

Read more on the Structural Testing Facility renovations happening in 2022

By David Goldberg 


Megaprojects and the ‘need for speed’: How political indecision affects the timelines of large infrastructure


Building a new transit line or a highway almost always takes longer than initially planned. A new study suggests that the biggest contributor to such delays isn’t necessarily the design, planning or even construction phases. Instead, it’s the time required for local or provincial authorities to decide what exactly they want to build.

“Here in Toronto, there is a strong need for infrastructure, such as more housing and better public transit — and really, we needed it years ago,” says CivMin’s Professor Shoshanna Saxe, one of the lead authors of a new study recently published in the European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research.

“With this big a deficit, there is a sense of urgency and a need to move fast. On the other hand, large infrastructure is expensive, permanent and causes a lot of disruption. You don’t want to end up building the wrong infrastructure by not taking the time to listen to the people who will be affected by it.”

Back in 2017, a series of joint workshops hosted by U of T and University College London (UCL) brought Saxe together with a new team of collaborators, including her fellow U of T Professor Matti Siemiatycki (Geography) and Dr. Daniel Durrant at UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning.

Given their shared interest in infrastructure, they decided to crunch the numbers on the megaprojects from both Toronto and London, U.K., for which they could gather data.

The goal was to look at how long it takes to go from idea to opening for transport infrastructure, as well as how that time is being spent and whether projects that spend years in deliberation actually benefit from that opportunity for sober second thought.

“We looked at whether the gestational period led to any change along two metrics: either a location change — for example, rail stations in a different location — or a technological change in the project,” says Saxe.

“If we can point to either of those, it suggests that the time spent considering and reconsidering the project at least resulted in some change, potentially for the better. But for a lot of projects we looked at, things didn’t change that much.”

The team analyzed 16 projects with a total cost of more than $500 million from Toronto, and a further 10 with a cost of more than £500 million from London. Of these, more than half did not change significantly by the time construction started.

This is despite the fact that, in many cases, the informal planning periods lasted much longer than the actual building phase.

“Consultation and consideration before we invest billions of dollars is important,” says Saxe. “But there is also an opportunity cost to not acting. There’s a lot of good tied up in these projects that we could have had much earlier, if we had moved faster.”

Saxe says that in her opinion, the negative consequences of this ‘analysis paralysis’ are evident in the current infrastructure landscape of the Greater Toronto Area.

“Not building something is a choice,” she says. “Here in Toronto, we allowed our population to outgrow the carrying capacity of our public transportation network, to the point where a huge number of people now have no choice but to drive cars, with all of the cost, pollution and congestion that come with that.”

“We didn’t consciously design that system — rather it was a consequence of not choosing to design a different one. What I would like to see is an honest discussion about priorities, and a commitment to following through with the funding necessary to make them a reality.”

By Tyler Irving

This article originally published by Engineering News


Civ PhD alumna self-publishes infrastructure book for all ages with environmental message

Mariko Uda PHOTO: Phill Snel, Civil & Mineral Engineering/U of T


She took time off her job to write a book.

Image of the book cover for "Where does it all come from? Where does it all go?"

Mariko Uda (Civ 0T4, PhD 2016) took time away from engineering work in order to pursue a long-held dream of turning author.

Her self-published book titled “Where does it all come from? Where does it all go? Toronto’s water, energy & waste systems” is the result.

Uda has long wanted to share her understanding of infrastructure and environment, saying, “I’ve been thinking about this kind of a book since my civil engineering undergrad. A lot of us live in the city and we turn on light switches, we flush the toilet, and we throw things in the garbage, but we don’t really think about where it all comes from or where it goes.”

Helping to bridge the average Torontonians’ understanding of their daily interactions with utilities, and with resources as a whole, was a key goal. “I’m an environmentalist and I feel part of the problem is that in cities we don’t have a connection to the land or water we are actually dependent on. With this book I wanted to bring what’s hidden up to the surface to show people how we’re connected. For instance, our water comes from Lake Ontario.”


Toronto specific

“I live here, so I picked Toronto to base it upon. If I lived somewhere else, it might have been a different book about a different place. I made it place specific because a lot of books tell you the concepts in abstract in saying something like ‘this is how a water treatment plant works’ or ‘this is how this is how hydro electric energy works’ or whatever. A lot of education is abstract because they’re trying to teach concepts.”


The 52-page book is also illustrated by Uda, making it approachable for all ages and levels of education. Simple diagrams work both to attract and assist children in understanding simple concepts, but are also supplemented by statistics and figures older readers find useful.

I have pictures in it, so it’s good for kids. But also for newcomers, because in coming here they have no idea how and where things are coming from, or are going to, since the place they came from likely had very different infrastructure.

“I did my research on low-impact development stormwater management practices, which are design features that reduce the amount of water going to the storm sewers by holding it on a property or helping it to be absorbed by the ground. That was my research my first two years at grad school, but then I switched to PhD. My doctorate research was on how to design sustainable and resilient neighborhoods for future climate.”sample illustrations in the book


sample illustrations in the book

Booked a sales table before starting

Uda ambitiously first booked a table for Word on the Street, a Toronto book festival, then began her creative process this past spring. With the looming September 22 deadline approaching, it was a strong incentive to finish her project.


Mindfulness is also one of Uda’s goals. “Once we know how we’re connected, then we can be mindful of our connections and then mindful of our actions and our impacts, and interactions,” she proclaims.

This limited-run book is available online at for $20 ($25 with fed tax and shipping).


By Phill Snel


Page in the book that illustrates how storm sewers work


Reconciliation through Engineering Initiative to improve transportation and housing in Indigenous communities

Professors Tracey Galloway and Chris Beck in one of the planes used to transport food, supplies and passengers to remote Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario. (Photo courtesy of Chris Beck)

Professors Tracey Galloway and Chris Beck in one of the planes used to transport food, supplies and passengers to remote Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario. (Photo courtesy of Chris Beck)

Mitigating indoor mould and optimizing air transportation in Northern Ontario are the first two collaborative projects between Indigenous community leaders and U of T researchers to get underway through the Reconciliation Through Engineering Initiative (RTEI).

Launched last December by the Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN), RTEI will ultimately identify six projects to improve access to clean drinking water, food security, housing, health care, transportation and communication systems in Indigenous communities across Canada.

All RTEI projects aim to find sustainable engineering solutions through community-driven, multidisciplinary and Two-Eyed Seeing collaborations, leveraging the expertise of both Indigenous community members and U of T researchers specializing in diverse fields.

“In today’s challenging environmental climate, a Two-Eyed Seeing approach to research is critical to building sustainable futures for all,” says Sonia Molodecky, RTEI program lead.

The first project focuses on developing a holistic, land-based mould-mitigation framework for Indigenous housing on Georgina Island in Lake Simcoe, north of Toronto. The work, which can be used to support other First Nations communities across Northern Ontario, is led by Professors Marianne Touchie (CivMin, MIE), Liat Margolis (Architecture), Bomani Khemet (Architecture) and natural building designer Becky Big Canoe of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation.

Mould contamination, which is associated with respiratory illnesses, affects 44% of houses in First Nation communities in Canada. And as Becky Big Canoe has seen first-hand, previous attempts to address the spread of mould were unsuccessful. A key factor of failed mould remediation strategies was the lack of consultations with residents.

“The solutions weren’t sustainable, did not fit the environment or take into account high occupancies,” says Big Canoe, whose prototype of a land-based, high-occupancy house will be incorporated into the team’s ventilation and building-envelope design.

“I think we understand what the technical solutions are,” says Touchie, who will focus on ventilation systems. Khemet will work on the building envelope, and Margolis on the house’s soft-scape surroundings.

“The key to success in this project is actually gaining an understanding of the ways in which communities use their houses, what housing needs aren’t met, and what they’d like to see done differently. That is why Becky’s expertise and prototype will play a vital role in this.”

RTEI’s second project will develop techniques for more efficient air transportation to Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario. The work is led by Professors Chris Beck (MIE), Chi-Guhn Lee (MIE), Shoshanna Saxe (CivMin), Tracey Galloway (Anthropology) and Michael Widener (Geography).

In Northern Ontario, the reliability of air service, both cargo and passenger, is hampered by persistent challenges. These include aging infrastructure, limited weather information and navigational supports, as well as long flight paths between communities and limited emergency supports. These challenges significantly affect food security for these communities, which rely on air transport for their food.

These challenges are further compounded by extreme weather patterns. Even de-icing, a matter perceived as routine in southern Canada, is more complex to operationalize in the North.

In addition to consulting with Indigenous community leaders, the engineering researchers are working closely with Galloway — drawing on her long history of work in remote Northern Canada — and Widener — an expert in geographic systems and the interplay between accessibility and wellbeing — to understand the human impact of their proposed solutions.

In the second collaboration, Beck’s team will work closely with Northern businesses to develop models that optimize travel routes and cargo/passenger transportation.

“We have a lot of research about transportation optimization that’s been developed over the last 50 years, but almost always, this research is within the context of the South, where there’s a market environment and plenty of transportation links,” says Beck, who recently visited the airports in First Nation communities Webequie, Neskantaga and Eabametoong.

Meanwhile, Lee’s team will apply machine learning techniques to manage uncertainty, such as when adverse weather conditions or emergencies lead to a cascading effect of unknowns in air transport operations.

“If there’s an emergency situation where a plane carrying essential supplies can’t land at the optimized destination, we would have to find an alternative that causes the least disruption,” says Lee. “Our work aims to minimize the impact of uncertainty.”

Saxe’s group will analyze the current physical infrastructure of these airports to identify their impact on air service. Her lab is currently engaging with both users and providers of air travel services to learn about their experiences.

“It’s most important that we’re listening to learn about a context different from our lived experiences as Southerners,” adds Saxe.

Researchers across both projects emphasize the importance of taking the time to find the appropriate solutions, rather than developing a quick fix.

“Strange as it sounds, we will spend most of the next year listening: sitting down with experts, decision makers, Elders and community members,” says Galloway. “We need to listen to the larger, ongoing conversation happening in Canada around self-determination for Indigenous people, and ask our partners and collaborators how we can support their goals through research.”

By Liz Do

Story originally posted on U of T Engineering News

Reconciliation through engineering

Professor Jennifer Drake (CivMin) presents to Indigenous leaders from across Ontario at the Sioux Lookout Innovation Station. The event is part of the Reconciliation Through Engineering Initiative, a collaboration between Indigenous communities and U of T Engineering’s Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN). (Photo: Shakya Sur)

Professor Jennifer Drake (CivMin) presents to Indigenous leaders from across Ontario at the Sioux Lookout Innovation Station. The event is part of the Reconciliation Through Engineering Initiative, a collaboration between Indigenous communities and U of T Engineering’s Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN). (Photo: Shakya Sur)

Researchers at the Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN) are collaborating with Indigenous communities to address pressing infrastructure challenges facing geographically disparate communities across Canada.

CGEN’s Reconciliation Through Engineering Initiative (RTEI) will identify six projects that aim to improve access to clean drinking water, food security, housing, health care, transportation and communication systems from a multi-disciplinary and holistic perspective.

Since December, CGEN’s approach has been to first listen, learn and gather perspectives before defining any projects, says RTEI program lead Sonia Molodecky and research associate Shakya Sur.

“Our first step was to meet with Indigenous elders, youth, men and women to really understand — first and foremost — how we may approach a collaborative research relationship founded on respect and reciprocity,” says Molodecky. “We recognize that there are 10,000-plus years of knowledge and expertise that Indigenous Peoples have about their communities, relationships with the natural environment, and the interconnection and interdependence of all things. There is a lot we can learn. We are embarking on a co-learning journey.”

Two projects are in their early stages of development: one in northern Ontario and the high Arctic will focus on optimizing transportation routes to ensure timely delivery of food and supplies to communities. This work will have a multidisciplinary team of researchers, including professors Chris Beck (MIE), Chi-Guhn Lee (MIE), Shoshanna Saxe (CivMin), Tracey Galloway(Anthropology) and Michael Widener (Geography).

The second project will focus on developing a framework for designing building ventilation, envelope and integration of landscape-design features to mitigate mold, a significant concern for many Indigenous communities in Canada, says Sur.

“This work will lead to producing a set of housing guidelines that will inform the building of safer and healthier homes in the long term,” he says. “In addition to focusing on ventilation and building envelope design, the project will utilize landscape-design principles and an understanding of the relationship of the house to natural environment, to augment the overall performance of the house, as well as strengthen the residents’ connection to the land. Ultimately, this will contribute towards the long-term sustainability of the overall research outcomes.”  This project will involve professors Marianne Touchie (CivMin), Bomani Khemet (Architecture) and Liat Margolis(Architecture).

On June 17 and 18, CGEN co-sponsored the First Annual Innovation Station Event in Lac Seul First Nation, where they met with Indigenous leaders representing 21 communities serviced by the Sioux Lookout area, in order to understand their needs and priorities and identify future partnerships. Among those present were former Chief Clifford Bull, Special Advisor on Indigenous affairs to the Ontario government, Doug Lawrance, Mayor of Sioux Lookout as well as a number of local industry and service providers.

Researchers in attendance included, professors Arthur Chan (ChemE), Jennifer Drake (CivMin), Jeffrey Siegel (CivMin), as well as Galloway and Bonnie McElhinny (Anthropology). Faculty members presented on their research expertise and learned about the communities’ challenges to better pinpoint potential areas for collaboration.

Also joining them was Elder Whabagoon, who stepped on the soil of her home community of Lac Seul First Nation for the first time since being taken away almost 59 years ago during the ‘Sixties Scoop’. Elder Whabagoon presented an initiative she co-created in partnership with University of Toronto Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design (FALD) and First Nations House (FNH) and the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority (TRCA), called Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag. This program works with Indigenous youth to re-connect their spirit with the land through the design of green infrastructure, architecture and land-based teachings.

“It was a very emotional experience coming home. My heart and feet felt grounded for the first time. My heart is full and I am so very grateful for the opportunity. I am very hopeful for the work going forward with my community and see real change being possible through this initiative” said Whabagoon.

Over the next twelve months, Molodecky and Sur will finalize the six research projects, secure further funding to support community participation, and host workshops at the university to give U of T Engineering students an opportunity to learn about the challenges facing Indigenous communities as well as the robust knowledge systems that they are using to address these challenges.

“We’re looking at the full picture. This is an opportunity for us to do things in a much more sustainable way, and the right way, thinking about many generations down the road,” says Sur. “The way to do that is to involve the youth — in our community and in Indigenous communities — so we can carry this effort forward, past the duration of the projects themselves.”

By Liz Do


This article originally posted on Uof T Engineering News

Smart Freight Centre aims to deliver the goods — faster and greener

The demand for goods transportation continues to rise, leading to increased traffic congestion across the GTHA. The newly launched Smart Freight Centre looks to find solutions. (Photo: Flickr)

Leading experts from U of T Engineering, McMaster University and York University are working together to improve — and future-proof — how goods are delivered across the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) through the newly established Smart Freight Centre (SFC).

Professor Matt Roorda (CivMin), of the U of T Transportation Research Institute, is the U of T Engineering lead for the effort, and is the centre’s inaugural chair. The SFC will advance the goals outlined in the Region of Peel’s Goods Movement Strategic Plan, said Roorda in an announcement event today in Brampton, Ont.

The new centre will study ways to improve the transportation of goods throughout the region, taking into account issues like traffic, population growth and the environment.

From delivering stock to stores or packages to individual homes, the demand for freight transportation continues to rise — at the same time that expected delivery windows are narrowing.

“It’s the Amazon effect. People are buying things online and expect them delivered within a day or even within a few hours,” says Roorda. “And that has a real impact on the number of trucks on the road.”

Increased truck traffic contributes to congestion on the roads and competition for parking, both of which pose distribution challenges — especially as populations grow across the GTHA. Meanwhile, stop-and-go traffic leads to higher carbon emissions.

“We want to establish sustainable freight transportation systems that are more efficient and less impactful on communities,” says Roorda.

Roorda’s project, which launched in February, will see industry partners Walmart, Loblaws and LCBO stores piloting nighttime freight deliveries — shifting key daytime deliveries from distribution centres to retail locations to the late evening, from 7 to 11 p.m.

“There definitely seems to be a lot of spare capacity on our roadways at different times of day, so why not make better use of our current infrastructure?” says Roorda. “With there being less traffic congestion on the road during that time period, what we hope to see by studying the before and after, is that operations are running faster and more smoothly.”

His research group will also look at how the time shift will affect emission levels, examine cost mitigation for companies, and consider whether late-evening noise levels is an issue for residents along freight delivery routes.

The pilot is one of three initial projects underway in the SFC, with each of the three partner universities leading one. York University will study the feasibility of establishing truck-only lanes in the GTHA, while McMaster will research e-commerce purchasing behaviours to predict driving trends of future home-delivery demands.

Roorda and his colleagues at York and McMaster are currently developing SFC’s five-year plan, which will include research projects on automated trucks, and innovative alternatives to last-mile deliveries.

“I think we can make an impact with not just research papers in journals, but with demonstrated projects — there’s one foot in real life happening with this centre,” says Roorda. “These are on-the-ground problems that we’re trying to solve.”

By Liz Do

Story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News

Landscaping project revitalizes Galbraith entrance as gathering place

A view of the redesigned front of U of T Engineering’s Galbraith Building, looking north on St. George Street. (Courtesy: gh3*)

As U of T’s St. George Campus turns green again after a harsh winter, the space in front of the Galbraith Building’s western entrance will experience a renewal.

A new landscaping project, slated to break ground in early April, will see the St. George Street frontage of the U of T Engineering building redesigned with new seating, improved accessibility, and a prominent site for Becca’s H, the sculpture by artist Robert Murray to mark the Faculty’s 100th anniversary in 1973.

“We observed that this site at the heart of our campus wasn’t being used as much as it could be — with this redevelopment, we’re creating a welcoming public space that encourages our students, staff and faculty to gather, take a breath and share ideas,” says Tom Saint-Ivany, Director, Facilities & Infrastructure Planning for U of T Engineering.

“We also want to redesign this high-traffic corridor of the U of T Engineering precinct into a place that connects more fluidly with its surroundings: the new Myhal Centre to the north, and the Bahen Centre immediately across the street.”

The design is being led by gh3*, a Toronto-based practice, with the final design benefiting from the input received from students, staff, faculty, and the University’s Design Review Committee. Somerville Construction will act as the landscape contractor. Work will take place on one half of the site at a time, leaving the other half accessible and open to traffic. Those requiring an accessible entrance to the building can enter via the north side of the building, off of Galbraith Road.

The new design centres around ‘character-defined architecture,’ which describes coordination with the structural grid of the Galbraith Building and seamless visual continuity from the vertical to the horizontal planes.

The site will feature native plants including flowering shrubs, evergreens and perennial grasses, new granite seating and a heating system underneath the walkway to keep the area free of snow and ice year-round. Becca’s H will be integrated into the design on its own dedicated slab to the right of the entrance, creating another focal point for conversation.

The project is expected to be completed prior to the start of the fall term.

By Marit Mitchell

Story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News

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