Getting Connected

One Maryland: ICBNFrom an engineering standpoint, it might not be the largest project KCI Technologies Inc. has ever tackled but in terms of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) work, the One Maryland: Inter-County Broadband Network project was.

The Project
The , as it is commonly referred, is funded in part by the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The grant covers the entire state and KCI Technologies provided design services and its telecommunications construction arm KCI Communications Infrastructure handled the construction contract.

“The ICBN project is one of the most collaborative efforts the state of Maryland has ever produced,” said Howard County executive Ken Ulman in a news release about the project. “This broadband network will improve our public schools, our health care delivery service, and provide a much better communication system for public safety providers – and it will do it all by saving the government millions of dollars every year. This network and our work to secure it for Maryland demonstrated the power of innovation in the public sector.

Howard County, and Ulman, was instrumental in getting the project off the ground. The project connects more than 1,000 institutional and municipal facilities to the fiber-optic network that will serve the entire state.

Infrastructure construction began in the fall 2011 and because of the grant guidelines, the project — all 800 miles of it — needed to be complete by August 2013, according to KCI Technologies vice president Joseph Siemek. He happily reports that the project was complete in August 2013.

The original design, Siemek said, indicated that overhead construction is less expensive and boring underground was more expensive, with 30 percent of the original plans calling for aerial work.

“When we started getting involved on both the engineering and the construction side, we recognized that it is very expensive to attach to the poles,” Siemek said. “Depending on the congestion and complexity of the alignment, cost for pole upgrades to allow for aerial construction ranged from $5,000 to $30,000 per pole.”

By the project’s end, 85 percent of the project used underground methods for installation. In one instance, KCI saved more than $500,000 in construction costs by designing and building underground using HDD, compared to running the lines along already congested utility poles.

One Maryland: ICBNOn Time, Under Budget
In addition to the two-year deadline, because much of the funding — $115 million — came in the form of a government stimulus grant, the project required using small and minority-owned businesses, which worked out well for KCI. The company does not own its own equipment and instead subcontracts its HDD work.

The scale of the project allowed KCI to collaborate with 17 subcontractors, 65 boring machines and approximately 100 technicians, most of which came from Maryland with a few from Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Siemek is proud of this fact because it was not only good for the local economy but also helped the project move along smoothly.

“Many of our subcontractors had already been working in the area before and they were already familiar with the conditions, traffic control requirements and the environmental requirements that are somewhat restrictive here in Maryland more so than in some other places,” Siemek said.

Although other companies that were larger and from outside the region approached KCI, company officials greatly preferred the local contractors. Additionally, the local contractors were able to offer their equipment for the duration of the project, which in many instances had a limited work schedule.

“We found that we were comfortable with those we already knew or those who were already here rather than have those who came in,” Siemek said. “There was a secondary reason to use local, use small, because we also met the requirements of the public grant.”

Proper Planning
Unlike this past winter, the last two have been relatively mild, which aided in the project being complete on time and on budget. That includes working at a time when Hurricane Sandy whipped through the eastern states, which Siemek said amounted to nothing more than a rain event in the work area.

When discussing the challenges, Siemek said it came down to scheduling multiple crews to work in suburban, urban and environmentally sensitive areas.

There were no abnormal rock formations and because of the design specifics, bores were relatively straightforward, averaging about 500 ft.

“Quite often, the permit and schedule restrictions limited the time to be able to get on the road, often limited to 9-3, well that’s not very conducive to getting a whole lot of construction work done,” Siemek said.

He added, by using local sub-contractors to handle the HDD work, these scheduling concerns were small hurdles because the subs were able to mobilize their forces, get on the street and get most of the work done in that period of time.

In terms of logistics, KCI made sure that the Miss Utility one-call utility location services were notified, responsive and when the areas were marked, the subcontractors could start their work. The sub-contractors handled all of the quality control, traffic control, restoration and other jobsite issues.

“I am very proud to say we have very exceptional track record on lack of hits of existing utilities that were determined to be our fault. Things got hit, but they were primarily mismarked or not marked,” Siemek said. “In the entire two years of construction, with all of our sub-contractors there were no at-fault hits to existing utilities. We were building 200 miles in such a congested urban area, we’re very proud of our safety record, and we’re very proud of our sub-contractors, that we were able to accomplish that.”

With its largest communications infrastructure construction project under its belt, Siemek says KCI is looking to the future.

“Now that we have this as a success story and experience factor and we’re looking to do more of these in other areas. We’re hoping to do more projects like this moving forward.”

Mike Kezdi is an assistant editor of Trenchless Technology.
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