Workers make preparations to lift the cutting head from Bertha, the world's largest tunnel-boring machine
© JASON REDMOND / Reuters REUTERS

They're complex and contentious, and they'll keep moving forward—or maybe not.

By David Z. Morris
December 28, 2015

Futuristic transportation innovations, from Uber to Hyperloop, are some of the most-watched efforts in tech these days. But economic progress depends just as much on upgrading and expanding the roads, rails, and other networks that let us move ourselves and our stuff around. And those big, complex projects almost always involve as much intrigue, conflict, and unpredictability as launching a hot new startup.

Here are some of the biggest projects will see major milestones—or major problems—in 2016.

Bertha Keeps on Truckin’. Hopefully.

It’s alive! After a series of mishaps since 2013, the giant drill that’s sinking a world-record tunnel under Seattle for the Highway 99 tunnel project successfully restarted last week. 2016 will be a nail-biter, though, as Seattle, its contractors, and drill manufacturer Hitachi Zosen find out if Bertha’s major repairs and redesign are enough to keep her moving. This one’s truly make or break—as the Seattle Times wrote, “government agencies lack a Plan B” if it turns out Bertha can’t get the job done.

 

Expanding the Panama Canal

By allowing passage to much larger ships, the expansion of the Panama Canal will fundamentally reshape global shipping. Despite its incredible scale, the project has had impressively few technical problems, and the builders are now confidently predicting completion by April 2016. But 2016 will also see progress on a web of lawsuits between contractors and the Panama Canal Authority over cost overruns, and maybe even revelations about what critics allege was a compromised bidding process.

WATCH: For more on the transformation of ports, take a peek at Long Beach.

 

The Texas Shinkansen

Yes, you read that right. A group of private investors has been working since 2012 to import Japanese bullet-train technology to a route between Dallas and Houston. Ranchers along the tentative route have lined up against the project, and some Texas lawmakers spent much of 2015 trying—and failing—to kill it. Though the Texas legislature isn’t back in session until 2017, environmental reviews will be released in 2016, activists will keep up the fight, and more fundraising progress towards the tentative $12 billion price tag will be needed for this ambitious plan to move forward.

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LaGuardia Reborn

By many metrics, New York’s LaGuardia is the worst airport in America. But this summer, Governor Cuomo and Vice President Biden teamed up to announce an almost total rebuilding of the airport, with a completion goal of 2021. Major construction will break ground in 2016, but the plan calls for totally gutting one of the world’s busiest hubs while keeping it in operation. That means any problems would have serious, far-reaching impacts.

Honorable mentions: Will Boston’s Green Line extension survive immense cost overruns? We’ll just have to wait and see. Will New York’s 2nd Avenue subway line stay on schedule for Phase 1 completion in December of 2016? Well . . . probably not.

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