Maryland Broadband Network Promises Major Rewards

As the new year began, construction was nearing completion for 800 miles of fiber optic cable that will comprise the central segment of the state of Maryland’s One Maryland Broadband Network (OMBN) project. Ultimately, this project will create a comprehensive high-speed broadband fiber-optic network to connect more than 1,000 institutional and community facilities throughout the state.

Known as the Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN), the project owner is seven central Maryland counties and the cities of Baltimore and Annapolis. Each jurisdiction owns its portion of the network.

Funding includes a $115 million grant under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Recovery Act’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program to the Maryland Department of Information Technology with Howard County as a key partner and sub recipient of the grant, responsible for managing the ICBN project.

The ICBN fiber segment will comprise about 66 percent of the 1,200 miles of cable projected for the One Maryland Broadband Network. Under contracts with the consortium, KCI Communications Infrastructure and other consultants, are designing, constructing and will implement services for the ICBN project.

“Planning is complete and the majority of the aerial and underground structure has been constructed,” said KCI Senior Vice President Joe Siemek, P.E. “We are in the process of placing cabling and splicing. Most of the current work in progress is connecting the laterals from the anchor sites to the fiber backbone. The deadline for completing construction is August 2013, but we are well ahead of schedule and expect to be finished during the first quarter of the year.”

Each jurisdiction has future plans to build upon the backbone and distribution cabling to connect additional sites. Ultimately the project will create a web of interconnected fiber linking public buildings, government offices, schools and other facilities.

The ICBN project specifies a minimum 216-strand backbone consisting of 18 ribbons, each containing 12 color-coded strands of glass. A minimum of 24 strands are reserved for economic development, research and development and last-mile build-out through open-access, private-sector dark fiber leasing. The rest are allotted for local government use.

Change of plans
Construction started in September 2011. Siemek said initial planning called for 30 percent of the outside plant to be aerial and 70 percent underground.

The design criteria instructions furnished to the engineering teams specified the utilization of the most effective construction methodology, said Siemek. Because of significant make-ready costs associated with placing cables on existing utility poles, the percentages changed to 15 percent aerial, 85 percent underground. Eighty percent of underground cable in Baltimore was placed in existing utility pathways.

“Aerial construction costs ranged from $5,000 to $30,000 per pole, depending on the complexity of the make-ready work,” Siemek said. “KCI’s recommended alternative underground alignments saved more than $500,000 in construction costs over following aerial routes lined with severely congested poles.”

Shifting large portions of the network from aerial to underground went smoothly and did not delay construction schedules. Siemek said KCI’s knowledge of the engineering and construction permit requirements within the nine jurisdictions expedited the transition.

Open-cut construction was utilized when there were existing utilities in conflict. The project encompassed urban and suburban areas so all types of construction methods and environments were encountered. Surface conditions ranged from asphalt top coat over reinforced concrete road base to turf areas.

Busy boring

Horizontal directional drilling (HDD) was the predominant method of construction for underground conduit installation. Bores were made for street crossings, along street rights-of-way, water crossings and surface obstacles.

“KCI had as many as 17 drilling subcontractors operating 68 drill units and approximately 100 technicians working at the peak of construction,” said Siemek.

Bores ranged from 100 to 600 feet with the average approximately 500 feet. HDD equipment included compact models with pullback ratings from 5,000 to 9,000 pounds and medium-size machines with 20,000 pounds of pullback.

Wherever trenchless underground construction was used, test pits were excavated to visibly identify locations of all existing utilities along the proposed cable routes.

Standard duct on the project was two-inch diameter SDR11 HDPE. All pipe was rolled on reels. Mechanical connectors were made at test pits or tie-ins. Approximately 95 percent of the installation was single two-inch duct, no bundling.

KCI placed the cable using conventional pulling methods. Fifty-foot slack loops were required at each hand box placed approximately 500 feet apart. Siemek said this made pulling a more economical option compared to blowing.

Benefits of directional drilling on the project included increased production, limiting surface damage and reduced restoration costs, and reduced disruption of traffic and activities.

Working within the Baltimore city underground conduit system was not a simple matter.

“Parts of the system are over 100-years old and many obstructions in the conduits were encountered,” Siemek explained. “Working in the downtown environment added to the difficulties with lane and road closures, heavy traffic areas, pedestrian traffic, dewatering issues and congested manhole obstacles. Approximately 115,000 linear feet was to be constructed in the existing city conduit system to approximately 46 sites to serve the anchor sites. An additional 30,000 linear feet was constructed in new duct or overhead within the city of Baltimore.”

Open-trench was utilized on a limited basis and excavations typically were 200 linear feet or less.

“In most cases,” said Siemek, “we were excavating in city streets, requiring saw cutting of paving, excavation by backhoe and placement of sheeting, shoring and plating of these areas. Plowing and micro-trenching were not allowed on the ICBN, although portions of the One Maryland Broadband Network in the southern part of the state were plowed.”

To the top
Proponents of the project say completion of the One Maryland Broadband Network will place Maryland among the nation’s leaders in statewide telecommunications and set the stage for further advancement in inter-governmental communication, cooperation and efficiency. The connectivity gained through ICBN and the One Maryland Broadband Network will support public safety interoperable communications and could allow expansion of collaborative initiatives such as the National Capital Region’s Geospatial Data Exchange which facilitates data sharing across jurisdictions and agencies.

“The ICBN project is one of the most important collaborative efforts the state of Maryland has ever produced,” said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. “Once completed, this broadband network will improve our public school system, our health care delivery services, provide a much better communication system for public safety providers, and it will do all this while saving the government millions of dollars every year. This network, and our work to secure it for Maryland, demonstrates the power of innovation in the public sector.”

Based in Sparks, MD, KCI is an engineering, consulting and construction firm serving clients throughout the U.S., providing telecommunications, environmental, transportation, construction, facilities, and land development services from more than 20 locations.

“KCI has been engineering and constructing cable plant throughout the state under both the ICBN and OMBN via the ICBN contract, and the state of Maryland cable and wiring contract,” concluded Siemek. “KCI was fortunate to be awarded both the engineering and construction contracts for ICBN and is one of the prime contractors under the Cable and Wiring OSP Maryland State Contract.”

KCI, (410) 316-7800,

Related Articles

    Find articles with similar topics