After over a year of construction, the new communications towers being installed along the roughly 20 mile stretch of US36, between Lyons and Estes Park, is set to be completed before the end of the year.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), as well as Crown Castle, the communications company managing the project, say the purpose of the structures will be to provide broadband and 5G cellular coverage to the area which will make the section of road safer for travelers.
“Crown Castle expects to complete construction on the US36 project in December 2022,” said Crown Castle Public Public Relations Manager Melissa Hand. “Once completed, businesses, residents and visitors can expect to have improved connectivity in the canyon.”
The project is being run and funded by Crown Castle which, according to Forbes.com, is “a real estate investment trust company, which engages in the provision of access to wireless infrastructure via long-term contacts.”
CDOT has permitted the project, along with Boulder and Larimer counties and the Town of Lyons, but essentially, none of the entities have the ability to deny the project due to federal regulation.
The federal ruling that gave wireless service providers access to the public Right-Of-Way (ROW) was clarified on June 10, 2020, it states: “[In] clarifying provisions of its rules implementing section 6409(a) of the 2012 Spectrum Act ‐ wireless service providers and wireless infrastructure providers are permitted to locate Small Wireless Facilities in public ROW in accordance with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Order.”
For using CDOT ROW, Crown Castle must compensate CDOT in some way. An agreement was reached to allow CDOT to access some of the fiber capacity for cameras and other traffic uses along the corridor.
The project is part of the FCC rural broadband process to bring services to areas where it does not exist.
“The cellular coverage is also a safety issue because there is no 911 coverage in that canyon,” said CDOT Communications Manager Jared Fiel.
The lack of cell service emergency crews experienced during the record-setting wildfires of 2020 highlighted the need for better communication services in the area.
“The project will provide dedicated First Responder Network service (FirstNet) through the canyon from Lyons to Estes Park, and will provide essential broadband coverage where today there is none,” a spokesperson for Crown Castle said. “Crown Castle started construction on the project in June 2021 and aims to complete it in 2022.”
There are two major construction aspects to this project, the first being fiber optic trenching through the canyon from Lyons to Estes Park, which also includes erecting two small buildings to house the fiber connections.
Trenching began around July 8 and CDOT put time restrictions for when lane closures will happen to prevent massive traffic jams. Since then, CDOT has had to suspend the work several times for things such as improper traffic control, open trenches, missing the permitted times for roads to be open, and twice when they hit gas lines near Lyons.
The second major aspect of the project is the installation of 30 32-foot high ‘nodes’ along the US36 corridor in CDOT ROW.
“These nodes are on public land and there is very little control local entities, including CDOT, have except for safety, meaning we can have them protect them with guard rail, and stealth, meaning we have asked them to be painted brown to try to blend in to the natural environment,” Fiel said.