Thruway Authority develops fiber-optic communications network

Thruway Authority develops fiber-optic communications network

A $55 million fiber-optic network for high-speed digital voice, video and data communications is soon expected to patrol the 641-mile New York State Thruway at no cost to taxpayers

bob eide and robert thurman

mFs network technologies INC.

Faced with hefty budget cuts, growing traffic congestion and the pressing need to streamline highway and rapid-transit operations, a growing number of state highway agencies are turning to private fiber-optic networks for creative solutions.

A prime example involves an innovative, 20-year agreement between the New York State Thruway Authority and MFS Network Technologies Inc., an operating company of Omaha, NE-based MFS Communications Co. Inc. MFS Network Technologies, also based in Omaha, is a systems integrator of fiber-optic communications networks and intelligent transportation systems. The agreement calls for MFS Network Technologies to design, market and, as third-party financing is developed, install, integrate and support a fiber-optic communications system for high-speed digital voice, data and video communications. This system specifies a buried installation along the New York Thruway Authority`s 641-mile right-of-way.

In this manner, a state highway transportation agency can leverage its roadway rights-of-way to gain the installation of an advanced fiber-optic communications system without taxpayer investment and to generate new revenue streams.

The Thruway Authority`s highway route starts at New York City, continues north through Albany and then moves west to Syracuse and Buffalo. From Buffalo, the highway extends south along Lake Erie until it reaches Pennsylvania. Additional branch routes run to Canada, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The cost factor

The cost significance of the agreement is that the taxpayers are not paying for network installation and operation. All network costs are expected to be paid by leasing fiber-optic and conduit capacity to users such as local exchange, interexchange, competitive access, cable TV, paging, cellular and personal communications services providers. In the future, other providers, such as traveler-information services, are expected to join the network user ranks.

Driving this immediate need for communications capacity, says Michael J. Keogh, director of general services for the New York State Thruway Authority, is deregulation of the telecommunications industry, which is occurring at both state and national levels. Another important factor, he says, is the exploding demand for services that require high-bandwidth, fiber-optic digital networks.

Keogh also notes that the Thruway Authority decided to pursue the venture after conducting a market analysis with the help of Palmer-Bellevue, a division of Coopers & Lybrand. The analysis concluded that the market existed but had to be developed.

The fiber-optic network project is divided into eight segment routes, and each route is scheduled for installation as soon as users are secured and third-party financing is arranged. Construction is planned to begin this spring, with project completion targeted for the end of 1997. After all segments are completed, the total cost of the fiber-optic network is estimated at $55 million.

The project calls for the following construction tasks:

Build a fiber-optic infrastructure made up of a buried four-duct, 4-inch, polyvinyl chloride-conduit system. One duct is reserved for the Thruway Authority`s communications needs, and the other three are intended for users to lease communications capacity on the system.

Install fiber-optic cables for both the Thruway Authority and the communications-services providers.

Install two linear, add/drop multiplexer, OC-3 synchronous optical network, or Sonet, backbone systems operating at 155.52 megabits per second. The systems aim at providing advanced solutions for voice, data and video transmissions; connecting to the Thruway Authority`s Albany headquarters (the largest site on the route); and supporting point-to-point or Sonet ring topologies.

In addition, plans call for 23 Fujitsu FLM-150, OC-3 add/drop multiplexers to be strategically placed at 22 Thruway Authority sites along the rights-of-way. Two multiplexers are designated for placement at the headquarters. Moreover, 47 6-Mbit/sec Fujitsu FLM-6 optical virtual tributary group terminals are planned for installation at all toll plazas and toll barriers.

As part of the electronics system, a Tellabs Titan 5300 input/output, crossconnect system for traffic management has been selected for the headquarters. The network is expected to feed all the DS-1 trunk lines, at 1.544-Mbit/sec rates, into the crossconnect system. At the headquarters, all the DS-1 and 64-kilobit-per-second DS-0 lines are expected to be managed and routed electronically. Furthermore, each site is expected to contain a Coastcom D/I multiplexer III T1 intelligent channel bank and a Power Conversion Products PS19 twin-pack power system.

The cornerstone of the entire system is a network management center slated for placement at the Albany headquarters to continuously monitor all system equipment and operations.

User choices

Upon completion of system design, MFS Network Technologies is scheduled to market the available system capacity to potential users. When sufficient users are secured, it will arrange third-party financing and construct the appropriate segments.

Users have the choice of installing their own fiber in the conduit system, activating dark fibers offered by the Thruway Authority and MFS Network Technologies, or implementing both choices. User fees are negotiable, depending on mileage, number of innerducts and dark fibers requested.

The New York Thruway Authority is responsible for internal project management and construction inspection. It also has the job of locating buried utilities and identifying easements.

For revenue distribution, the Thruway Authority will receive a percentage of all gross revenues generated by user agreements. The project should appeal to outside users because:

An advanced fiber-optic communications system can be implemented without making large, up-front investments in cabling plant.

Time, effort and expenses are saved in not having to acquire easements, permits and right-of-way agreements.

Optical lines and space in conduits can be leased at competitive prices.

Construction, installation and outside plant problems are eliminated.

Nearly 80% of New York State`s 18.2 million residents live within 10 miles of the Thruway. Furthermore, the Thruway connects to other major turnpikes in the eastern United States, many of which have installed or are expected to install similar fiber-optic communications systems: the New Jersey Garden State Parkway, the Massachusetts Turnpike and the Connecticut Turnpike.

In meeting its present communications needs and applications, the New York Thruway Authority, which also manages the New York State Canal System, is leasing copper lines. When the authority switches over to the fiber-optic highway system, it expects to save as much as $2 million a year in telecommunications costs.

Furthermore, the Thruway Authority has the option of using the network for intelligent transportation system applications to streamline its highway operations. Basically, these systems use advanced communications and computer technologies to perform a variety of traffic control functions that relieve automobile congestion and stoppages, improve highway safety and make driving more energy-efficient. Federal highway studies conclude that traffic congestion robs the U.S. economy of an estimated $100 billion each year.

Some of the projected intelligent highway transportation applications that will take advantage of the fiber-optic communications system include:

Traffic management systems, which comprise traffic operation centers, traffic-surveillance systems and mobile data computers in state police vehicles

Advanced traveler information systems, which cover traffic message signs, highway advisory radio messages and interactive information kiosks

Commercial vehicle operation systems, which provide electronic permits, automated safety inspections and automated weigh-in-motion systems

Advanced toll collection systems, which enable automatic vehicle classification, electronic toll payments and video audit and surveillance systems.

MFS Network Technologies has been selected to design and install several intelligent transportation systems both in the United States and internationally. One is an electronic toll and traffic management system for the first nonstop toll road--the SR 91 Express Lanes project located outside Los Angeles. Others involve electronic toll, traffic management and auditing systems for all nine of California`s state-owned toll bridges. Another is a dual-currency, toll collection and auditing system for the international toll bridge that connects Pharr, TX, and Reynosa, Mexico.

Still another intelligent transportation project underway will serve the South Jersey Transportation Authority along the Atlantic City Expressway, and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has selected MFS Network Technologies to provide an electronic toll collection and management system for Boston`s Harbor Tunnels and the Massachusetts Turnpike`s Boston extension and initial turnpike.

Another system for the Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, District in Oakland, CA, is a 75-mile, fiber-optics-based communications network for emergency train services communications and improving train operations. Much like the New York State Thruway project, MFS Network Technologies is marketing access to BART`s fiber-optic conduit network and rights-of-way to cover construction costs and provide additional revenues. u

Bob Eide is vice president for network systems sales, and Robert Thurman is vice president, project development, both at MFS Network Technologies Inc. in Omaha, NE.

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