Microtrenching Mandate: HB 1722 & SB 5775

I should start by highlighting a couple of things. First, we very much need to expand broadband access to the unserved and underserved communities around our state. Second, our position is not that microtrenching should never be used in the county right-of-way.

By now you might be asking yourself, “what is microtrenching anyway?” Microtrenching is a cool word to describe using a large saw to cut a small trench through a section of roadway to install utilities more quickly and cheaply.

Of concern for the County Engineer’s Association, is that this narrow and shallow installation practice can impact the integrity of the pavement and create a much higher likelihood of hitting lines during maintenance work. For example, activities like pothole repair and prep work for chipseal and pavement overlays could be a lot more difficult and time-intensive.

Damaging fiber-optic lines is expensive and if the damage occurs during construction, it will not only disrupt the service to the user, but also lead to time-consuming discussions about who is responsible.

The above Bills attempt to achieve short-term gains in broadband access, by requiring the use of this technique in the county right-of-way and preempting local standards, policies, and codes. Counties have adopted standards for utility installation; some of which do allow microtrenching and most of which have a process for requesting a deviation or variance that may allow microtrenching. We believe this is the correct process for installing utilities and making alterations to the county right-of-way.

For all the good reasons there are for expediting broadband service to those who need it; that service should be installed in a way that ensures reliability and protects the roadway.

Supplemental Transportation Budget

The Governor’s Supplemental Transportation budget is out and received hearings this week in both the House and Senate Transportation Committees. Counties continue to face a significant gap, estimated to be about a billion dollars annually, between what the County Road fund can support and what we need in terms of preservation and maintenance. Counties are responsible for roughly half of the statewide transportation system, and we are trying desperately to keep that system working with property tax revenue capped at 1% and record inflation for construction materials. Right now, leadership in both the House and Senate Transportations Committees are meeting to pull together a supplemental Transportation Budget for the 2022 Session.

It’s critical in the next two weeks that you contact legislators who serve on either the House or Senate Transportation Committees and remind them that we need their help to address the deferred maintenance backlog we have at the county level.

Other Bills to Watch

  • HB 1605: Creating a program to provide for improved safety on roadways to prevent vehicle lane departures – This Bill has a hearing in the House Transportation Committee on Monday at 3:30 pm.
  • SB 5687: Addressing certain traffic safety improvements – This Bill has a hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday at 4:00 pm.
  • HB 1595/SB 5673: Installing signs on or near bridges to provide information to deter jumping – This Bill was heard on Thursday in the House Transportation Committee and has a hearing next week in the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday at 4:00 pm.
  • HB 1948: Failed Water Systems – This Bill does not yet have a hearing.
  • SB 5742: Concerning stormwater control facilities and county jurisdiction – This Bill does not yet have a hearing.
  • HB 1870: Concerning certain wheeled all-terrain vehicles – This Bill does not yet have a hearing.