Lessons learned from Hillsborough County's buildout of a fiber-to-the-premises program

Thomas F. Rawls, P.E., Senior Professional Engineer, Right-of-Way Management Office, Hillsborough County, Florida, and member, APWA Construction Practices Subcommittee; Juan Lopez, Utilities Coordinator, Right-of-Way Management Office, Hillsborough County, Florida, and member, APWA Construction Practices Subcommittee; and Brian Houghton, General Manager, Right-of-Way Management Office, Hillsborough County, Florida; Presenters, 2007 APWA Congress

Local, state and federal governments, particularly in urbanized areas, continue to be victimized by limited rights-of-way (ROW) and increasing infrastructure construction activity within the ROW. Hillsborough County, Florida, in the Tampa Bay Area, was one of these victims and needed to (1) develop a ROW management program, (2) measure the effectiveness of that program and (3) address the complicated issues surrounding ROW management. After three years of planning, in May 2004 Hillsborough County opened a Right-of-Way Management Office to gain command and control of their ROW. The timing of this opening couldn't have been more appropriate; during the summer of the same year, a national telecommunications company selected Hillsborough County to embark on a major fiber-to-the-premises program for every household. This was in addition to the normal operating functions and permitting duties in the county.

Unseen voids from directional boring put motorists at risk.

Hillsborough County maintains approximately 3,000 centerline miles which would be impacted by this telecommunications program; this equates to approximately 16 million feet of conduit to be installed. This conduit was being installed by mechanical trenching, directional drilling, jack and bore, missile boring, and hand trenching. As soon as construction began, underground infrastructure damages escalated which led to interruptions in water service, sewer service and traffic operations. Most important, safety concerns arose regarding water quality, roadway damages and other peripheral damage which affected the public. In order to control this, Hillsborough County implemented a variety of tools and techniques:

1. Improve Construction Management
A fundamental lack of proper construction management processes and procedures continues to cultivate right-of-way problems. The County clearly assumed the Quality Assurance Role, and the telecommunications company assumed the Quality Control Role; the ability to maintain appropriate work methods, to enforce quality control, and to complete work goals on time clearly remained the responsibility of the telecommunications company.

The County hired a temporary construction management and quality assurance consultant. This consultant assisted in managing the peak demands and, most important, established a perpetual monitoring program tailored so the County could continue quality assurance monitoring.

The County hired temporary field inspectors. These temporary employees were essential in meeting peak demands in FTTP work activity; assistance was immediate and could be augmented or diminished relatively quickly depending on work activity.

  • Job duties were clearly defined by consistent training, procedures and checklists.
  • The County employed experienced temporary employees supplied by a local temporary staffing agency.

The County required the telecommunications company to establish a construction management program. As noted above, the onus was on the permit applicant to properly monitor the use of the County's right-of-way.

  • The County required the telecommunications company to provide a single overall point of contact for the FTTP program. This position was the catalyst for information flow to and from the County as well as the conduit to all of the telecommunications company personnel and contractors.

  • The County required professional engineering oversight for civil infrastructure restoration; the telecommunications company did not have appropriate in-house expertise to make civil engineering decisions and recommendations to the County. This was critical during restoration of the rights-of-way; the applicant remained accountable for proper, and therefore safe, stormwater and roadbed infrastructure restoration.

  • The telecommunications company provided additional inspection support to meet quality control needs and to be the County's liaisons for field operations.

  • The telecommunications company provided an enhanced public information system. Most important, every job site had an informational sign with proper telecommunications company contact information for the general public. This minimized direct communication and management of public information by relatively limited County resources.

  • Most important, the telecommunications company was held responsible for 100% of their damages and associated repairs within the ROW.

The County utilized its Notices of Violation, Citations, and Stop Work Orders. The County ultimately kept this program on-track by using its established enforcement tools as dictated in the Hillsborough County's Utility Accommodation and Rights-of-Way Use Ordinance. Generally, unaddressed problems escalated from a "Notice of Violation," to a "Citation," and then to a "Stop Work Order." Stop Work Orders were immediately issued for safety concerns as warranted.

2. Formalize Procedures, Processes, and a Quality Assurance Program
The onslaught of permits and construction activity within the right-of-way demanded a rapid buildup and assessment of current operating procedures by the County and the telecommunications company.

The program established real-time notification of work site activity. This element was critical not only for quality assurance of the work, but to ensure that the telecommunications company was able to productively continue at their necessary pace.

The program formalized quality control processes. Most mistakes are avoided by ensuring that everyone involved in the program followed the basic quality control elements for design, permitting, construction and close-out.

  • Permit review and field inspection checklists were utilized at all phases of pre-, during and post-construction.

  • The program ingrained verification procedures for locating underground utilities (Sunshine State One Call for Florida, Inc.). Not only were markings of utilities scrutinized, but actual exposure at set intervals of actual underground utilities by hand digging was emphasized to verify running lines.

3. Establish Levels of Effectiveness
Measures of effectiveness (MOEs) ensured that the program's successes and failures were driven objectively, not subjectively.

MOEs tracked the overall program. Mathematically formalizing the overall effectiveness of the program set benchmarks, tracked progress and generated trends to tailor the overall system.

MOEs set tolerance limits. For Hillsborough County, damages and the resulting demand on County resources garnered the attention and ultimately drove the progress. Exceeding the following limits would warrant an immediate shutdown of FTTP operations until a plan to remedy was in place:

  • Enforced maximum hit rate of .25 per working day for minor water/sewer lines (2" and less)

  • Enforced maximum hit rate of .25 per working day for major water/sewer lines (greater than 2")

4. Determine Staffing, Costs and Benefits
The FTTP program developed some guidelines for everyday and peak operations demands.

General staffing ratio established. One County inspector and one telecommunications company inspector were required for every twelve communications company field workers.

General cost ratio established. Additional County cost of $833 per week required for every twelve communications company field workers.

Benefits realized by the program based on the above ratios. Implementation of these manpower and cost ratios resulted in a less than .5 hits per work day incident rate and an overall reduction in hits of 75%.

Hillsborough County's management of this particular program has become a catalyst for the establishment of overall policies and procedures for monitoring and maintaining their right-of-way. In addition to responding to the telecommunications company buildout, the ROW Management Office requires that anyone, including our own government entities, must obtain an approved ROW use permit prior to performing any work within our ROW. These policies and procedures transcend major telecommunications companies as well as individual citizen requests regarding any work in the right-of-way.

Please join Hillsborough County in San Antonio, Texas, for the 2007 APWA International Public Works Congress & Exposition. The Right-of-Way Management Office will present "Gaining Command & Control of Your Rights-of-Way" on Sunday, September 9, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. Learning objectives will include the following: (1) development and implementation of a comprehensive right-of-way management program, (2) use of proven measures of effectiveness and (3) preparation for and addressing the tough questions from right-of-way users. Most important, Hillsborough County plans to provide to the participants all related studies, ordinances, processes, manuals, etc. to start a new or complement their existing ROW management office. The goal of this presentation is to help any government entity by providing them a primer for the establishment or enhancement of a ROW management operation which can be tailored to meet their needs.

Tom Rawls, Juan Lopez and Brian Houghton can be reached at (813) 274-6500, or rawlst@hillsboroughcounty.org, lopezj@hillsboroughcounty.org and houghtonb@hillsboroughcounty.org.