Google Fiber is “In the House” …Almost.

Written by Robert Meadows

March 3, 2022

Google Fiber (GF) has received permits from the City of Austin to carry out microtrenching on every street in our neighborhood. The purpose of this microtrenching is to bring Google internet services to our neighborhood.

(A) For areas with curbs, a microtrench 1- to 2-inches wide and 10- to 18-inches deep will be dug at the seam between the curb concrete and the roadway, optical fiber will be laid, and the trench will be filled with a fast-drying flowable overlay and then with a crack sealant, ultimately leaving a black line. As of this time of Sunday, 9 January 2022, microtrenching of this type can be seen on the north side of Braker, between Tedford and the entrance to the commercial center (the “old Albertson’s”).

(B) For areas without curbs, the original intent by GF was to place a microtrench 6 inches to the property owner’s side from where a curb “should be”. One should remember that, in our neighborhood, the City-owned right-of-way (ROW) actually extends more-or-less as far as the first seam in a driveway (first seam from the street side; the line formed by telephone poles also delineates the ROW, again more- or-less), so a microtrench 6 inches to the property owner’s side of a hypothetical curb is still in the ROW.

Stock photo, not from the Walnut Creek Neighborhood

GF has stated that, in areas without curbs, GF prefers to trench in the street, but that the City of Austin requires trenching 6 inches to the property owner’s side of a hypothetical curb. GF has stated that this is perhaps due to concerns by the City of Austin that trenching in the street will accelerate deterioration of the street. It is also thought that root systems are protected by the fact that, even in the absence of surface pavement, the roadbed itself does still extend underground beyond the pavement (basically, either the roots have already been cleared in the past, or the alkaline character of the roadbed has discouraged roots from entering the roadbed).

Around 1 November 2021, GF contractors carried out micro-trenching on Tedford in order to place a main trunk line. This micro-trenching went poorly. A gas line was broken and trenching was carried out across or proximal to the root crown of a protected oak at Scurry and Tedford.

As a consequence of communications from WCNA board members and other concerned residents to Council Member Pool (specifically to chief-of-staff Louisa Brinsmade), City of Austin arborists, and the City of Austin ROW Division, GF agreed to suspend further microtrenching in the neighborhood until a plan could be evolved in consultation with the City of Austin that would address the concerns of the neighborhood, particularly with regard to trees in the trench line in areas without curbs.

The neighborhood has suggested that an arborist survey for trees that could be impacted and that trenching somehow be adapted to account for such trees. It is generally thought that microtrenching in areas with curbs will be unproblematic.

On 13 December 2021, GF contacted the Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association and stated that a plan had been evolved with the City of Austin to proceed with microtrenching in the neighborhood. A meeting between GF and the neighborhood was requested, and a ZOOM meeting was held on Friday, 17 December 2021, from 7 pm to 8:30 pm.

This meeting was hosted by the Association and was well-attended, with 24 participants. This was noted by JohnMichael V. Cortez (Government and Community Affairs, Google Fiber) and by Lyssette Galvan (see above). This good attendance gives us credibility for the future.

Meeting Results

1) In the curbed areas of the neighborhood, trenching will proceed as noted above in (A).
2) The following procedure will be used in curbless areas. In the absence of trees, the trenching will proceed as described in (B) above, but the trench will be filled with flowable fill to within 1- to 2-inches of the surface, and then sod will be laid to restore the top of the trench to the surroundings. In the presence of trees on or near the trench line, trenching may detour to one foot into the pavement, and this trench will be milled and paved to 1-foot on either side. The decision to detour into the street will be made based on how the trench would otherwise traverse the critical root zone of the particular tree. This will be assessed in the field by the contractors and by City of Austin inspectors.
3) Trenching on Scurry between North Lamar and Tedford will proceed in a zag-zag manner from one side of the street to the other to avoid tree roots and shrubs.
4) In order to avoid the root damage and/or spread of pathogens by the trenching machine, John-Michael is
requesting that Google Fiber use an air spade near trees (this tool uses a high-speed air jet to displace soil).
5) Trenching will be carried out on both sides of the street, but not at the same time. Trenching on only one side of the street at a time means that the street can stay open during the trenching operation.
8) At every other property line, Google Fiber will leave a drop, aka a pigtail, to serve the residents as needed.
7) Residents will be notified generally at least 48 hours ahead of time by no parking signs and door hangers.
8) Google Fiber will move vehicles left in their path as a last resort, and they will be moved back on completion.

The various permits under which Google Fiber operates are being re-written to encompass the adaptations to curbless streets proposed by John-Michael in the 17 December 2021 meeting. The Association will be given a heads up before Google Fiber proceeds with trenching in the neighborhood.

Contact information:
1-877-454-6959
(Google Fiber, to address real-time construction issues)
jmvc@google.com (John-Michael V. Cortez, the Google Fiber contact for this project, who, incidentally, has been very gracious with his time and very responsive)
Lyssette.galvan@austintexas.gov (Lyssette Galvan is a Constituent Services aide for Council Member Leslie Pool, and the neighborhood is quite fortunate that the Council Member’s office has been participating. This is a major (and amazing) improvement brought about by the 10-1 council districts.)

The information herein was obtained from the Austin Build + Connect database, communications with John-Michael V. Cortez (Government and Community Affairs Google Fiber), direct observations in the field, and conversations with directly-involved parties.

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