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Google Fiber construction bringing its share of disruption

Contractors install fiber optic cable lines for Google Fiber in Highland Creek. The work has brought its share of construction-related inconveniences to the neighborhood, some residents say.
Contractors install fiber optic cable lines for Google Fiber in Highland Creek. The work has brought its share of construction-related inconveniences to the neighborhood, some residents say. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Google Fiber construction has come to the north Charlotte neighborhood of Highland Creek – bringing its share of construction-related inconveniences with it, some residents say.

The neighborhood is Google’s first staging ground in Charlotte, a place where the company will experiment and refine its construction approach for the almost 3,200 miles of fiber optic cable intended to bring ultra high-speed Internet to Charlotte.

Bechtel Corp. and its subcontractor crews arrive after 7 a.m. each day and begin the 12 hours of hot work. Workers dig holes in the grass about three and a half feet deep. A horizontal drill follows, humming and curving its way under cement and rock for the cable’s path.

More times than not, the process seems to go off without a hitch. Neighbors who spoke with the Observer characterized it, in general, as a lingering inconvenience they were willing to tolerate for a while – disrupted traffic patterns, patched driveways and some missing grass. Sometimes, crews hit a gas line.

Charlotte Fire Captain Jackie Wilkes said his crews at station 31 on Ridge Road head out to Highland Creek about once a week. The sight of fire engines has become so frequent that one woman wrote her complaint on the neighborhood message board under the subject “another day, another gas line.”

David Trusty, spokesman for Piedmont Natural Gas, said he doesn’t know how many gas lines have been hit by Google Fiber crews, but that it doesn’t appear to be any more frequent than with work done by other contractors in Charlotte.

Ann Eudy said crews hit a gas line near her home in Highland Creek two weeks ago. She said the crews were calm, immediately called the fire department and explained to her that this has happened before. Eudy said the whole incident, line repair and all, was over in an hour and Piedmont Natural Gas came out that evening to make sure everything was working.

Half her driveway is a new shade of gray. Four others along Tunston Lane are the same. All along the street, the brown and yellow grass of late summer has been replaced by the brown dirt and yellow straw that surround a Google Fiber underground telecom cabinet – which works like a switchboard, connecting smaller lines to a larger cable.

Gary Eshler was watering the thin patch of grass poking out from under the dirt Wednesday evening. He said he wouldn’t mind the hole in his lawn so much, if only it would rain. He’s relieved that construction ended on his street two weeks ago.

“People tell me it’s supposed to be quick,” he said, referring to coming gigabit speed Internet. “Of course you’ve got to sign up for it first.”

Google acknowledges the work can be disruptive – but stresses the payoff will be worth it.

“Construction of any type can be messy, and Google Fiber is building one of the biggest and most complex infrastructure projects in Charlotte’s history,” said Jess George, Community Impact manager for Google Fiber in Charlotte.

She added: “Once Google Fiber is installed, we know that Charlotte’s residents and businesses will do amazing things with gigabit Internet, and we’re looking forward to seeing the city lead the nation in innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Steve Allred has some dirt and straw along his sidewalk and a patchy driveway too, but, to him, that’s a minor inconvenience compared to the benefit he thinks Charlotte will derive from the cables snaking underground.

The benefits of faster Internet are beginning to show about 50 miles northeast of Charlotte. Salisbury built its own fiber-optic gigabit network six years ago. Kent Winrich, director of broadband and infrastructure in Salisbury, said people were miserable during construction, but that its growing pains have faded away. They will in Charlotte, too, he said.

“There are so many cities clamoring for what Charlotte is getting,” he said. “It’s a lot of growth pain, but it is putting in a whole new infrastructure that is going to last a long time.”

Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas went through the construction disruption that other parts of Charlotte are about to experience.

Google Fiber just finished work in Kansas City and is now starting construction in the surrounding suburbs. Kansas City (Mo.) Assistant City Manager Rick Usher said the byproducts of Google Fiber installation ranged from the inconvenient to the hazardous, such as hitting gas lines. However, he said Google does a good job watching the crews it hired. One crew didn’t call for utility markings, hit a gas line and was “immediately terminated.”

Usher estimated Google invested about $250 million to $300 million in Kansas City. “It’s a moving construction site,” he said.

“The positives clearly outweigh the negatives,” he said. “You can’t really expect technology is going to be implemented without construction issues.”

Hardiman: 704-358-5928

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