University of Houston: New algorithm to simplify decisions on dredging

A new decision-support tool could become a game changer in the dredging of ship channels, the University of Houston said.

Millions of dollars are at stake every time a major ship channel is cleaned up.

Delays in dredging can cost even more by triggering increased risks, repeated maintenance and lost revenue. In either case, the task cannot be put off indefinitely.

All ship channels must be regularly cleared of sand, debris settled on the bottom (called shoal) and miscellaneous trash. That means ship channel management regularly faces the mighty task of dredging.

“The quandary involves weighing factors for the optimal decision of channel dredging and disposal activities,” said Zheyong Bian, assistant professor of construction management at the University of Houston College of Technology.

“Some factors are static, like geographical features of navigation channels and confined disposal facilities. Others vary substantially, such as navigability condition deterioration (shoaling), traffic, economic values, annual budget and more.”

Once all factors are included, the algorithm suggests timing, prioritization and the grouping of projects. It also projects costs, with interest and inflation included, as well as monies likely to be recouped (through repurposing of sand, for example).

The New Jersey Department of Transportation Office of Maritime Resources provided funding and data to support this study.

By Sally Strong

Photo: USACE