Ore. DOT negotiating with Facebook to run fiber-optic broadband along Hwy. 126

Updated Nov 29, 2018
Highway 126 between Redmond and Prineville, Ore. Google Earth screen shot.Highway 126 between Redmond and Prineville, Ore. Google Earth screen shot.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is negotiating an agreement that would allow Facebook to use highway right of way to run 100-miles of fiber broadband line, The Bulletin reports. This, in turn, would provide ODOT’s data center with access to broadband to transmit more real-time information to drivers. However, the Oregon Department of Justice advised transportation officials that they can’t sell the right of way, so the deal will have to be an exchange.

“There’s a lot that’s happening in the ITS — intelligent transportation systems — arena,” said Tammy Baney, the Deschutes County commissioner who is chairwoman of the Oregon Transportation Commission, according to the news agency. “It’s an opportunity for us to look at ways that, on that stretch, we may not have been able to put in those new technologies, where we would have an opportunity now.”

The fiber-optic line would follow state Highway 126 from Prineville to Redmond and U.S. Highway 97 south to Chemult, and link the data center to a major east-west trunk line that cuts through the region, Art James, senior project executive in the ODOT Office of Innovation, told the news agency. Plus, it won’t prevent the agency from adding lanes or working on the highway in the future.

“I don’t see anything bad about it. I think it just opens opportunities,” Tyler Deke, manager of the Bend Metropolitan Planning Organization, the lead agency for regional transportation planning, told the news agency, adding that he could think of several ways to use the broadband, including making signals on Third Street sensitive to traffic patterns, creating variable speed limits on the highway based on congestion levels or weather conditions, and installing enough weather sensors between Bend and La Pine to create a system that would lower the speed limit when snow or ice is present. “If there’s fiber along the corridor, implementing that type of system becomes easier and cheaper,” he said.

Any agreement between ODOT and Facebook must be approved by the transportation commission. Even if approved, construction probably wouldn’t begin until 2020.