ODOT is joining with broadband partners to develop a modern fiber optic network. This network, built along our transportation system, will expand economic opportunities across the state and help us be ready for the transportation challenges of the 21st century.
We are uniquely positioned to support the growth of broadband in Oregon, managing close to 8,000 miles of highway across the state. These corridors connect our residents, our economy and our communities. These corridors are also ideal pathways for fiber optic cables.
Already, this is where fiber optic networks have started to take root and where they will continue to grow. And as they grow, we’ll start to see exciting things happen.
One day broadband technology, enabled by fiber optics, may detect deterioration in the roadway even before we can see anything with the naked eye. New autonomous and connected vehicles and drone deliveries will depend on fiber optics to navigate successfully and safely.
While ODOT will use fiber optic strands for our transportation purposes, broadband companies can use new fiber optic cables to provide new or improved Internet services to the general public.
Fiber optics are already here in the information signs that help us navigate the roads safely and help emergency service vehicles communicate with their home bases. Safety information could soon be sent into private cars. And that’s just the effect on our transportation network and vehicles traveling the roads.
The online economy has greatly expanded during the pandemic. More and more of us are working and meeting online. Teleconferencing, online health care, online education and many other opportunities have all increased. The greater the reach of broadband, the greater the opportunities. We’re interested in supporting the growth of our broadband system not only because we have a vast network ideal for this effort, but because an economy with more online services is one with fewer car trips. That helps us reach our congestion and climate goals.
With private sector partners, ODOT will play a critical role in planning this transportation future.
Today, ODOT owns about 150 miles of fiber optic cables and we partner with local governments for another 300 miles. We have adequate fiber optic infrastructure in the Portland Metro area and in Salem, Eugene, Medford and Bend. But we see needs along the corridors almost everywhere else: along the Oregon Coast, the Coast Range, the Cascades and areas east of the Cascades.
In the years ahead, we’ll work with private partners to expand fiber optic networks deeper into urban areas and to rural parts of the state.
This will allow broadband providers to extend broadband services to underserved communities that haven’t had access before. Internet connectivity, particularly of the high-speed and reliable kind, is a fundamental ingredient in the modern economy. Expanding broadband access through our transportation network is a central part of expanding opportunities across the state. These broadband services will create new opportunities in education, health care and economic development.
We’re partnering with the private sector to pursue this vision. Other states, including Utah, Virginia, Colorado and Oklahoma are doing so as well.
In 2021, lawmakers funded an ODOT broadband coordinator position that helps identify projects that could accommodate fiber optic infrastructure and then works with private sector providers through the construction process. By tying fiber optic infrastructure together with construction projects, we can expand the network more efficiently. The ODOT broadband coordinator will help capture these opportunities in the future.
Fiber optic cables are reliable, consistent and future-proof. We can increase network speed and capacity by upgrading the system electronics at the ends without having to build more cables or modify the cable itself.
Building, maintaining and operating a modern, connected transportation system will serve all Oregonians, address climate goals, increase equity and help Oregon communities and economies thrive.
Kris Strickler is director of the Oregon Department of Transportation.