Caltrans open trench notification bill signed by governor

26 September 2016 by Steve Blum
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California governor Jerry Brown signed assembly bill 1549 on Friday, which means it will be law as of New Year’s Day. Authored by assemblyman Jim Wood (D – Healdsburg), the bill requires Caltrans to let everyone who is interested know when there might be an opportunity to install broadband conduit in a highway construction project…

During the project planning phase of a department-led highway construction project that was initiated on or after January 1, 2017, is parallel to the highway, and involves construction methods that are suitable for installing broadband conduit, the department shall notify companies and organizations working on broadband deployment of the project on its Internet Web site to encourage collaborative broadband installations.

It remains to be seen how Caltrans will interpret this new requirement, as well as language which specifically allows private companies and organisations “working on broadband deployment” to collaborate on state highway projects. But it doesn’t require Caltrans to reciprocate.

I was in a meeting with Caltrans officials and assemblyman Wood’s staff in May to discuss an earlier draft of the bill. The people from Caltrans took the position that they were already doing all the notification that was necessary, although the web link they offered turned out to be broken. With a diligent, district by district search, a lot of information can be found about upcoming projects. But to be of any practical use, you would have to take a weekly, if not daily, trawl through the Caltrans website to see if anything new had appeared, and spend a lot of time reading through project descriptions and specifications to figure out if there was, indeed, a genuine opportunity to install conduit as part of the work.

The purpose of AB 1549 is to make Caltrans a more willing and cooperative partner in infrastructure development of all kinds, something the department fought during its unanimous passage through the legislature.. The bill – now, law – requires Caltrans to meet with stakeholders to try to come to agreement on information availability, as well as a defined process for installing conduit in highway projects, both on its own initiative and in collaboration with broadband developers – incumbents, independents and communities alike.

I’ve advocated for and helped to draft AB 1549. I’m involved and proud of it. Take it for what it’s worth.