Arizona DOT Working on Rural Broadband Project

The Arizona Department of Transportation is working to bring broadband internet access to more of southern Arizona by laying 63 miles of fiber-optic conduit along I-19 from Tucson to Nogales.

[Above photo by the Arizona DOT]

The $15 million project began in September and involves crews laying fiber-optic cable along the agency’s right-of-way on I-19. The project should wrap up in early 2023, Arizona DOT said.

This project is part of Arizona’s broadband initiative, launched in January 2021, wherein Arizona DOT and Arizona Commerce Authority are collaborating to offer a wider array of rural communities with affordable high-speed internet service. Arizona DOT’s role in the initiative is to provide access to its right-of-way along the four main interstates in Arizona to place fiber-optic conduit for rural internet providers.

In addition to boosting rural broadband connectivity, the agency said in a statement it plans to use the fiber to provide “smart highway” technology, such as overhead message boards, traffic cameras, weather stations and wrong-way driving detection technology. The infrastructure also will help lay the groundwork for emerging technology like connected and automated vehicles.

This is one of several Arizona DOT broadband projects. In October 2021, the agency began laying fiber-optic conduit along a 46-mile stretch of I-17 from Flagstaff to Sedona. Meanwhile, Arizona DOT already has fiber-optic conduit along freeways in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, as well as a stretch of Interstate 10 near Eloy for the dust detection and warning system.

Arizona DOT’s work on installing fiber-optic cable is part of a growing national trend that links the ability to expand broadband access to leveraging assets such as highway rights-of-way – especially for rural residents.

Photo by the Indiana DOT

In August 2021, ITR Concession Company LLC – manager of the Indiana Toll Road – and eX² Technology, LLC, completed a two-year $34 million project to install a fiber optic communications system as part of ITRCC’s Intelligent Transportation System expansion project. That effort installed conduit and fiber optic cable to complete ITRCC’s ITS network spanning Northern Indiana from the Illinois to the Ohio state lines.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials recently provided suggestions to the U.S. Department of Commerce on how to improve the role state departments of transportation play in broadband projects.

In a February 3 letter, AASHTO said federal agencies should avoid a “one size fits all” approach to broadband projects and promote public-private partnerships between state agencies and broadband providers to expand future deployments.

Image via the FHWA

To help streamline broadband projects, the Federal Highway Administration published a final rule in December 2021 that allows for the installation of broadband cable during road construction projects to avoid the need for further excavation in the future. That final rule originated from a requirement contained within the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

Often referred to as the “dig once” rule regarding broadband deployment, the FHWA said this approach could minimize cost and disruption to the traveling public.

The agency also noted that common use of highway rights-of-way includes accommodations for public utilities, such as phone lines, electrical lines and pipelines. Expanding their use to include wireless broadband technology is a critical next step in advancing connectivity in disadvantaged and rural communities that lack such capability, FHWA noted.

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