May 18, 1997 in Nation/World

Jackhammers Come Calling Company Seeks To Tear Up Streets, Lay Cable

By The Spokesman-Review
 

For the second summer in a row, Spokane drivers likely will dodge open trenches and fresh asphalt as they maneuver through downtown.

A telecommunications company from Vancouver, Wash., plans to lay conduit for fiber-optic lines beneath at least 1 mile of roadway.

Last summer, two companies offering telephone service and Internet access moved into downtown Spokane.

City officials - frustrated by the prospect of another summer of orange flags and closed lanes of traffic - say there’s little they can do to stop the companies from tearing up the roads.

A federal law passed last year cleared the way for many companies to vie for the same telecommunications market - and the same stretches of right of way.

“This is in effect an unfunded mandate,” Mayor Jack Geraghty said of the law that opened up the market and Spokane’s streets simultaneously. “Nobody even considered this might happen.”

Taxpayers don’t pay hard cash for the roadwork repairs now, but they do pay in the long run, officials said. Every cut into a street shortens its life span.

At least 65 miles of Spokane’s patched and pothole-laden streets already need $50 million worth of resurfacing, and in some cases rebuilding.

While the city can’t keep the companies out of the street, it can tighten the standards for using the right of way - both to protect the roads and ease driver frustration, said Assistant City Manager Dave Mandyke.

“The last time around was our first run at dealing with fiber optics,” he said. “We made mistakes. They made mistakes.

“This time, our construction management’s going to be a lot tougher.”

Officials from Electric Lightwave Inc. go before the City Council Monday night to request a franchise. The proposed agreement with the city requires the company to:

Pave an entire lane’s width of traffic instead of just the opened trench. This requirement was tested last year and is now a city policy.

Limit the length of trench opened at any one time. Last year, construction companies laying the conduit opened up too much trench before patching, Mandyke said.

Provide the city with accurate drawings of where the conduit lies beneath the streets so that other companies might be able to share conduit space.

Stick to a construction schedule. Last year, construction dragged on until mid-November, with some work postponed until this summer.

“We need to keep a tight rein on these people - get them in and get them out,” Mandyke said.

Electric Lightwave is more than happy to abide by the city’s tougher standards, said Cathy Pizzini, the company’s director of new market development.

The company is trying to lease space from other companies that already have conduit beneath the streets. “We’re making a major attempt to minimize the impact,” Pizzini said.

City officials worry that Electric Lightwave won’t be the last telecommunications company to tear up downtown streets.

Councilwoman Roberta Greene asked during a meeting last week whether the city could keep another company from tearing up the streets later in the summer.

“If somebody comes to town in July or August, can we stop them?” she said.

“I think that’s a problem,” said Phil Williams, the city’s director of planning and engineering.

In the past, one or two companies offered telephone or computer services. Deregulation of the industry means an unlimited number could compete in the same market.

Cities manage the “public domain” or right of way where the companies want to lay conduit for fiber optic lines.

The new law says that cities can’t be a barrier to entry. That means they can’t forbid a company from cutting into a street or charge a prohibitive fee for laying the lines.

City officials can take comfort from the fact that other companies will avoid a saturated market, said Pizzini. “The market can only handle so many different types of competitors,” she said, adding that she didn’t know Spokane’s limit.

Geraghty takes comfort in something else. With all the cutting and pasting by telecommunications companies, “we’ll get some repaving of these streets,” he said.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Meeting The City Council will consider the franchise agreement Monday at 6 p.m. in City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Meeting The City Council will consider the franchise agreement Monday at 6 p.m. in City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

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