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MasTec’s Fine Lines Keep Fayetteville’s Traffic Humming

Wed June 14, 2000 - Southeast Edition
Giles Lambertson

He looks like Kenny Rogers, the singer, but Bobby Carter plays with lines thinner than those strung across the face of a guitar.

Fiber optics are how he strikes a chord in the construction industry, bundling and stretching the filaments between controlling centers and signal areas to keep traffic humming.

Two North Carolina cities and the state Department of Transportation have signed up Carter and company to the tune of $10.5 million for a gig lasting several years.

Enough of the music metaphor. The fact is, Carter and MasTec Inc. are settling down in Fayetteville to bring a state-of-the-art traffic system to that city and to nearby Kinston.

Both cities have traditional traffic signal systems using slower trunk lines that connect gears and timers, relays and mainframe computers, the antiquated components of yesteryear. The systems are loosely coordinated but lack the swift and integrated control of more modern systems.

Carter, who is project manager, and his crews will in the next three and a half years switch both cities to the fiber optic and microprocessor world of the intelligent traffic system, or ITS.

Carter works for M.E. Hunter and Associates, an Atlanta company that has established a professional reputation in North Carolina. However, Hunter and Associates is being absorbed by a larger Miami, FL, company, as is evident in the way Carter answers telephone calls.

“MasTec Traffic,” he greeted a caller after excusing himself during an interview in his Fayetteville office.

Carter works from an older storefront building being renovated into the North Carolina office of MasTec Inc. Opening the office in Fayetteville is mostly coincidental: The company’s biggest project at this moment is in Fayetteville so it is “logical to have the headquarters here,” said Carter. “But we intend to pursue additional work in North Carolina.”

The Fayetteville project is by far the bigger of the two. It involves tying together 200 traffic intersections using fiber optic cable and computer software, monitors and signals, pulling them all together simultaneously into two operations centers — one for the city and another for DOT.

Under the present system, one or the other centers monitor an intersection. Under the new system, the information will flow to each center from each intersection. The advantage of that is swifter response to traffic conditions and greater communication across jurisdictions.

The Kinston job, which will be undertaken concurrently but will be complete a year sooner, involves just 75 intersections.

The projects broke ground in May after several weeks of preliminary paperwork. Clean, new Ford 250, 350 and 450 trucks were parked outside the office in early May, some fitted with Altec hydraulic lifts that have yet to boost their first crew member to an overhead line.

“Most of the work will be aerial,” Carter said, including all lines strung in Kinston. However, some lines in Fayetteville’s central business district will go underground into ducts. Augur trucks, backhoes and Ditch Witch trenchers, none of them yet in the Fayetteville equipment yard, will be used where the cable goes to ground.

Five 3-to-4-person crews will be employed on the job.

Two companies that are the proposed providers of computer components for the system are both out of Colorado Springs, CO. Computer hardware would be built by Saftran Co., and DMJM Co. would create the project’s software.

Lucent Technologies is the approved source for the fiber optic cable — and there is a lot of it. In Fayetteville, 250,000 meters (275,000 yds.) of cable will be strung, and another 38,520 meters (42,330 yds.) in Kinston.

Carter explained that not all fiber optic cables are the same, their strand load being dependent upon their function.

In Kinston, for instance, the fiberglass strands will number from six to 30 in a bundle, with 12-fiber cables being by far the predominant type. The cables in Fayetteville will contain up to 144 fibers, that city using more trunk lines than drop lines in its system.

Yet even when 144 of the fibers are bundled, the cable does not grow much larger than an inch in diameter.

In some isolated cases, ordinary telephone lines will be used to connect an intersection’s drop lines to the rest of the system. “It’s not feasible to pull fiber two miles to reach an intersection,” Carter said.

The two cities will not end up with identical programs. Fayetteville’s will be more sophisticated, with systems within systems so that the flow of information is constant and flexible.

Carter calls it a distributive system, whereas Kinston’s will be a closed loop traffic signal operation. The latter limits input and receipt of information in any one zone. That still will be an advance for the city, Carter observed, inasmuch as Kinston presently has some local coordination of signals but nothing city-wide.

The contract with MasTec requires the company to meet individual deadlines to bring online — in a progressive manner — each zone in each city. The zones are linked as they are activated.

For motorists, the outward sign that an intersection has been switched over to fiber optic will be the appearance of aluminum control boxes, replacing the old yellow ones with the mechanical hardware. Also, traffic presumably will be moving more smoothly at commuting hours.

More video cameras will be spotted along traffic routes, too. Thirteen are being installed in the Fayetteville project. But Carter said they are “monitoring traffic, not acting as stoplight cameras,” the devices some cities are employing to catch speeders.

Carter began working in the industry as a licensed electrician. For the last two decades, he has focused on traffic and signal systems. While working with another company, he helped put the state’s first fiber optic system in place in Rocky Mount.

MasTec was established in 1994. Its founder was the late Jorge Mas Canosa, an American of Cuban heritage who pushed his company to success with the same zeal he resisted the political fate of his native island.

Surviving family still are affiliated with the company, which has offices in Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Charleston, SC, and Virginia Beach, VA. It also has operations in several Latin American, European and Pacific Rim countries.

The company bills itself as a telecommunications and energy infrastructure provider. Besides intelligent traffic systems, it operates in seven other service areas: switching and transmission, telecom long haul, telecom local loop, broadband, wireless, network and energy.

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