Measure twice, cut once, or so the saying goes. In the case of Market Street – which runs along City Center – South Burlington officials are striving for a “dig once” policy to preserve the road. To that end, the city council signed a resolution allowing telecommunications companies to install or maintain their technology within a city-built/owned telecommunications infrastructure.
Traditionally, telecommunication companies have dug and created their own infrastructure to service South Burlington. But according to Public Works Director Justin Rabidoux, each time a company excavates a road to maintain, repair or build out its system, the road is weakened. That’s part of why the city built its own telecommunications infrastructure under Market Street during reconstruction and will make that available to telecom providers. Leasing conduit space to providers is a new model for the city, but one that has been successfully employed across the U.S.
“The number one most detrimental thing that could happen to a road is a utility patch,” Rabidoux said, adding city-owned and leased infrastructure, “ensures they [telecom companies] don’t have to come to us after the fact and say, ‘Oh by the way, we need to dig up such and such a street.’”
With the council’s approval secured, South Burlington will allow telecom providers to rent space under Market Street for their wire – akin to a tenant renting an apartment. The city council’s resolution calls for a $0.33 per linear foot fee which will be placed in the Capital Improvement Reserve Fund to cover future telecom infrastructure costs. At that rate, the city anticipates about $12,000 annually in revenue – equal to about $1,000 per year per conduit. Total revenue over the system’s 60-year lifespan would reach about $600,000. However, the resolution provides for the fee to go up or down, according to City Manager Kevin Dorn.
The telecom infrastructure is 5 feet underground and filled with three layers of four conduits, which are 3-inch PVC pipes through which telecom wire is run to businesses and homes. The conduits are stacked atop each other and clamped in place at regular intervals. They’re covered in concrete to keep them in place and to handle frost heaves and moving traffic above. Once telecom companies contract for space in the conduit, they can then feed their wires into the pipes. The city and Vermont Natural Gas will then be the only parties permitted to excavate Market Street.
Any provider can apply for space in the city infrastructure, which makes for equal access opportunities, according to Dorn. The city does not foresee running out of space to meet providers’ demand, he added. Typically, only one provider’s lines are laid per conduit, but it’s possible there could be more than one provider’s lines in a conduit, according to Rabidoux. “Certainly we think a system that has 12 conduits from Hinesburg Road to Marcotte [school] and then seven from Marcotte to Dorset is robust enough for today’s and tomorrow’s needs,” Rabidoux said.
Comcast has a temporary agreement with the city and has laid wires in the conduit, according to Dorn. They’ll have the opportunity to formally contract once the city’s terms are finalized. Consolidated Communications and Burlington Telecom have also expressed interest, Dorn said. And South Burlington may also consider occupying part of the system to provide high-speed internet to city buildings, he added.
“This is a very efficient and very forward-thinking way of a community to provide access to telecom power companies … in a way that is very equitable financially, but also it preserves the much more important asset, which is the road itself,” Rabidoux said. “Hopefully this might become a model where we do it elsewhere.”