Missouri barters rights-of-way to deploy fiber networks

Missouri barters rights-of-way to deploy fiber networks

GEORGE LAWTON

The state of Missouri has launched an innovative program to deploy fiber along its interstate highways for monitoring and controlling traffic. Private industry is paying the bill for the network in exchange for fiber-optic route rights-of-way. This program follows a similar path blazed by the state of Maryland and other states as part of a national trend. (See Lightwave, January 1995, page 10.)

Although it is scheduled for completion by the end of 1996, the Missouri fiber project is moving so fast (because of the ease of fiber installation along highways) that it could be finished by the end of this year, according to Dale Ricks, liaison engineer in the maintenance and traffic division of the Missouri State Highway and Transportation Commission, St. Louis.

The project began when Ricks was required to build a telecommunications network for traffic management. His first estimate indicated that fiber installation for St. Louis alone would cost approximately $22 million; fiber installation for the entire state would cost almost $45 million.

Although many states, including Missouri, have utility corridors that provide telecommunications providers with rights-of-way, the highway rights-of-way are particularly attractive because of the relative ease of fiber installation. Ricks studied the possibility of leasing out these rights-of-way, but Missouri law prohibits this type of leasing.

Fortunately, Ricks convinced the Federal Highway Administration to allow him to barter Missouri`s interstate highway rights-of-way. Ricks explains, "The federal government had a ruling that you could not have utilities in the normal corridor of the interstate highway unless you got an exemption from the Federal Highway Administration. Today`s administration agreed because it is now open and encouraging this kind of resource partnership."

After he received approval for this type of partnership, Ricks sent out requests for proposal to more than 100 different Missouri telecommunications companies and received 22 bids. However, Ricks rewrote the requests several times when new ideas and limitations were uncovered.

The most demanding requirement that Ricks conceived for the network was that the bidders had to install fiber for the entire state. However, most of the providers only bid on sections of the network that fed major towns and cities. They had no interest in covering the vast rural areas of Missouri. This limited approach reduced the number of bidders to one--Digital Teleport Inc. in St. Louis.

The company, which already had statewide carrier authority, was deploying a network in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Digital Teleport President Richard Weinstein explains that it is building two networks simultaneously. For the Missouri State Highway and Transportation Commission, it has agreed to build a fiber-optic network along the state`s highway system and provide six active fibers. The fibers carry data to and from nodes built into the highway and are used to monitor sensors and control output highway information displays. The plan calls for the construction of 150 nodes in St. Louis, 150 nodes in Kansas City and another 20 nodes throughout the state.

For its internal needs, the company has agreed to install at least 48 fibers along the highway. However, in more densely populated areas it is installing 216 fibers in ground installations. Once completed, the network will give Digital Teleport access to all urban areas, as well as to 85% of all rural areas. The whole network will cost $75 million to $100 million.

The company will have 500 points-of-presence throughout the state for commercial access that will support access speeds from T1 (1.5 megabits per second) to optical carrier, level 12 (655 Mbits/sec) using Fujitsu Network Transmission Systems Inc.`s asynchronous transfer mode terminal equip- ment. The backbone is operating at OC-48 (2.4 gigabits per second). Digital Teleport will deploy 2000 miles of Siecor Corp. fiber-optic cable to 35 cities in Missouri.

Low construction costs

What impresses Weinstein the most about this project is the ease of construction. "We are achieving incredible economies of construction because of the cleared terrain along the highways.

"The difference between railroads and highways is the vast amount of installed underground cabling that needs to be avoided along railways. In our case, there are no undercables, except those that go across the rails."

The construction crews are therefore able to use static plows on large earth-moving equipment, and then clean up with a tractor. One contractor`s team was able to pull six miles of fiber in a day. Weinstein said a similar construction in an existing utility corridor might proceed at the pace of only one to two miles a day. This rate translates into a construction savings of at least 20%.

The other benefit of building along the highways is that the implementation supports synchronous optical network rings. Notes Weinstein, "By virtue of the interstate, not only are we building cross state, but we are also building paths that form super-rings that divide the state into thirds or halves. It provides us with Sonet rings that make an attractive and bulletproof service."

In Maryland, the State Highway Association is allowing bidders to bid on select areas. In the first segment being constructed between Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania, this approach has allotted them 48 inactive fibers from MCI. In addition, Teleport Communications Group will be installing four OC-48 2.4-Gbit/sec links for high-speed communications, in addition to slower speed interfaces for 20 additional fibers. Although Maryland`s approach is getting the state more fiber along the choice routes, the states may have trouble installing fiber in more rural routes.

Other states--Virginia, Michigan, Rhode Island, Arkansas and New York--are following in Missouri and Maryland`s footsteps by creating plans to barter interstate rights-of-way for fiber networks. The Federal Highway Administration is getting behind the idea and has commissioned Apogee Research Inc. in Bethesda, MD, to study how it can encourage other states and companies to work together to install fiber networks on the national information superhighway. q

George Lawton writes from Brisbane, CA.

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