REACH-3MC Crossing the Grand River
August 22, 2012
By Greg Monroe
Spanning over 2,200 miles and covering 52 counties, 2 peninsulas and 3 states, the REACH-3MC project has seen its fair share of terrain over the past 2-plus years. Protected shorelines, critical habitats, streams and wetlands are all par for the course. Most water crossings on the project have typically involved smaller streams and brooks, unless of course you consider the fibers Merit obtained across the Mackinaw Bridge–or REACH-3MC’s recent crossing of the Grand River.
That’s right. The longest river in Michigan has a new addition. Conduit that will soon house advanced fiber-optic cable has a place beneath the Grand River’s bed. Though the fiber only crosses at one important interval, it seems fitting for a project that covers as much ground as REACH-3MC to touch the river that stretches from Hillsdale County all the way to Lake Michigan. What’s more, the work it took to install it is perhaps just as impressive as the feat itself.
On a hot Monday morning in July, crews from REACH-3MC construction contractor, Western Tel-Com, and sub-contractor, Utility Contracting Company, gathered in Comstock Park, positioning themselves on one side of a lengthy four-lane bridge in the Grand Rapids suburb. Their task was to perform a directional bore beneath the riverbed that would reach a designated location on the other side of the bridge on the opposite bank. After completing the bore, they would then pull conduit back through to where they started.
Fiber construction crews often joke that by installing advanced fiber-optic cable they are on the low-tech end of a high-tech industry. But really their work requires a good deal of skill. And the process is a testament to modern engineering and the incredible technology that has been developed to deploy telecommunications and other vital infrastructure when crossing waterways, roadways or other environmentally sensitive or congested areas.
With the directional boring machine placed with enough distance from the shore to reach a suitable depth to cross beneath the water, the process begins by drilling a bore head attached to the first of a series of hollow steel rods into the ground at an angle. As one ten-foot rod is drilled into the ground, a member of the construction crew then gathers the next rod from a nearby stack and loads it on to the machine. For each rod successfully drilled into the ground the process repeats. For long bores, dozens of rods are needed–all placed in the ground one after another. Drilling fluid, a mixture of bentonite, clay and water, is added to improve performance and ensure the integrity of the tunnel created by the bore.
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