Caltrans floats “Dig Smart” ideas to put more broadband conduit in the ground

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

California’s department of transportation, AKA Caltrans, is a step closer to actively collaborating with broadband service providers and local governments to put more conduit in California’s thousands of miles of state highways and make it available. It published a Dig Smart white paper that summarises “dig once” policies that have already been adopted by cities and other states. Those policies are intended to ease the way for telecoms companies to install conduit when road construction or utility excavation projects happen, and to encourage them to take advantage of the opportunity.

The white paper doesn’t offer any hard recommendations, but it does outline policies “which may be investigated” by Caltrans as it moves ahead with implementing a law – assembly bill 1549 – which was passed four years ago…

  • Resource Sharing
    • State [departments of transportation] make agreements with service providers to exchange the use of right-of-way
      or existing conduit infrastructure for the use of fiber optic services
  • Joint-Trench Agreements
    • Require providers of broadband services and other utilities to install infrastructure at the same time, in the same trench, or in the same conduit, and share the cost of installing the infrastructure
  • Moratorium on excavation to preserve new roadway construction and encourage utility coordination planning
  • Encourage the use of trenchless technologies, such as:
    • Horizontal Directional Drilling: A trenchless method of installing underground pipes,
      conduits and cables along a prescribed bore path by using a surface-launched drilling rig
    • Micro-Trenching: Digging a small trench just inches under the road surface along the
      curb line to install fiber optic lines
  • Information Sharing
    • Provide access to fiber, conduit and projects maps
    • Notify telecommunication companies of projects where broadband infrastructure can be
      installed
  • Reduce permitting costs and wait time for projects which implement coordinated utility planning

If you’re interested in the topic, the white paper provides an interesting overview of dig once programs at the state, local and federal levels. There’s no timeline for adopting a comprehensive dig once, or dig smart, policy, but the agency is moving in that direction. Caltrans is often criticised for being slow to change, but the flip side is that once its gets moving, it moves relentlessly.

I serve on Caltrans’ conduit task force, and I advocated for and helped to draft AB 1549. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.