California highway

Pennsylvania builds high-speed data lane along turnpike

To upgrade its own communications capacity, prepare for smart safety and mobility technology and make broadband available to underserved areas, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) will install a high-speed optical network along the eastern section of its highway system. The plan includes extra fiber that will create revenue opportunities through fiber infrastructure leasing.

The new network will increase bandwidth and boost connectivity beyond what’s available from the current microwave network connecting the PTC offices, maintenance sheds, service plazas and traffic cameras. It will also enable advanced mobility applications such as automated tolling, intelligent transportation systems and the smart infrastructure to support connected and automated vehicles, electronic signage, traveler information systems and smart parking. 

The turnpike traverses rural, sparsely populated areas of the state with little broadband infrastructure and through areas where residents and businesses have only one, often cost-prohibitive, choice for high-speed internet access. The PTC’s extension of fiber optic cable to these rural areas that have been previously passed over by commercial carriers will help the commonwealth address its digital divide.

“Broadband is the only logical solution,” PTC CTO Robert Taylor said. “The PA Turnpike faces the ‘perfect storm’ caused by the convergence of aging communications infrastructure, rapid technology growth, and emerging transportation technologies. With more than 10,000 Internet of Things (IoT) devices, it is not cost effective for us to rely on a network of microwave, leased lines and cellular routers.”

The fiber is being installed along the shoulders of the highway, within the PTC’s right of way. The 1.5-inch wide and 17-inch deep trench will hold three micro-ducts, each accommodating 288 fibers.  Each of those fibers can carry 1 terabyte of data. 

The extra fiber capacity makes the bandwidth available to internet and telecom network providers, cable multiple-system operators, municipalities and educational institutions and area businesses that want to expand their service areas and customer reach with more direct, low-latency routes across Pennsylvania.

PTC is working with Plenary Broadband Infrastructure (PBI) and Tilson Infrastructure to commercialize the dark fiber and develop network infrastructure to increase connectivity for the region.

“The new dark fiber provides carriers, hyperscalers, data centers and internet service providers with the bandwidth needed to reach municipalities, universities, cell towers, poles, enterprise customers and others without the need to buy aging fiber or be faced with having the expense to build it themselves,” Tilson Infrastructure’s Director of Fiber Business Development Ian Horowitz said.

The extra fiber in the high capacity network will also provide revenue opportunities to help offset the infrastructure investment through a 50-50 net revenue share between PTC and PBI over the course of the 25-year operations and maintenance contract, according to an April 2021 PTC presentation.

In April 2021, construction began on the eastern part of the turnpike, a 220 mile stretch from Harrisburg to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and the northeast extension. This section is estimated to be finished in 2022. The western section, from Harrisburg to the Ohio border, is slated to be completed in 2026.

“This unique partnership will produce a fiber-optic infrastructure that will become an essential element for roadway monitoring and surveillance, allowing us to enhance safety and improve incident response on our system as well as set a foundation for rural broadband,” PTC CEO Mark Compton said. “It’s an important component of the PA Turnpike’s continuing efforts to move our intelligent transportation systems forward and to prepare for connected and automated vehicles to benefit not only customers and employees, but also emergency responders and neighbors.”

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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