Gotham Gazette

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Dig Just Once to Tackle Noise Pollution and Get More Done

vanessa aronson

Vanessa Aronson, left, is the author (photo: Aronson campaign)

Sometimes it sounds like machine gun fire. Sometimes like the wail of a banshee. Sometimes like a wheezing dragon. And sometimes like all three at the same time.

I’m talking about the jackhammers, construction equipment and crews digging up your street for power cables, sewer work, and high-speed internet conduits. It’s an unfortunate part of New York City living. But it doesn’t have to be that way, especially for broadband fiber optics.

New York City must deal with its noise pollution, and should quickly adopt a Dig Once policy, which would lower the cost of broadband expansion by doing two things:

One, requiring city utilities to coordinate digging schedules so that they accomplish what needs to be done efficiently. And two, Installing fiber optic conduit when the ground is dug up for other projects.

By installing fiber conduit with enough space for additional networks, we can limit the need for new construction, meaning digging new holes and trenches every time new fiber is required. That way the cost of that construction is amortized over all projects that later use the conduit. This not only reduces costs but also minimizes hazards and headaches for drivers, pedestrians, business owners, visitors, and residents. All while adding less than one percent to the total cost of the construction.

And Dig Once works.

The Dig Once policy is already in place statewide in Arizona, Minnesota, and Utah, as well as in Boston and San Francisco.

Simply put, this policy can save money by minimizing the amount of digging and noise, and reduce inconvenience when installing necessary conduits and cables. Successfully implementing a Dig Once policy is based on leveraging the “rights of way” that are owned and managed by many different utilities and communications companies.

At a state level Dig Once broadens the authority of the state’s Department of Transportation to include the transportation of information. This allows the agency to coordinate the installation of multi-user conduits in state highways.

At a city level, Boston’s Dig Once is a “joint build” policy that requires all telecom companies to install their cable in shared underground conduits on a shared-cost basis. This policy also designates a “lead company” that is tasked with coordinating efforts between all involved in the installation process, planning and implementing the installation.

San Francisco’s Dig Once Specification has lowered the cost of conduit installation from $128,000 per street mile for the first installation (including excavation) to $71,000 for the second.

Although there is no federally mandated policy, U.S. Executive Order 13616 directed the U.S. Department of Transportation to review Dig Once requirements and to work with state and local governments in the development and implementation of sensible construction policies including Dig Once.

If the U.S. adopts a Dig Once policy, construction workers would install conduits just about any time they excavate for new roads and dig up your sidewalk. But we’re New Yorkers. We shouldn’t have to wait for Washington to save us money and time, and from the assault of jackhammers. We can -- and should -- Dig Once now.

Vanessa Aronson is a Democratic candidate for City Council in District 4. On Twitter @VanessaAronson.

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