A company known as Harborlink received approval from the city Board of Estimates yesterday to begin installing miles of conduit beneath Baltimore's streets that would expand the city's high-speed, fiber-optic system.
The project, which will require nearly six miles of trenches to be dug on city streets, many of them downtown, will begin within six months and take an estimated 2 1/2 years to complete. Officials estimated the contractor's trenching cost to be between $5 million and $10 million.
Harborlink, based in Washington, and its general contractor, LAI Construction Services Inc. of White Marsh, plan to construct a north-south line roughly between the Inner Harbor and Pennsylvania Station, and an east-west line from Market Place to the former Montgomery Ward warehouse, which is being converted into the city's largest office building.
Under the arrangement, the city will receive 5 percent of all revenues generated by Harborlink's leasing of the conduit to high-technology companies, an amount company officials estimate will yield $1 million a year to the city. In addition, the company will pay the city an estimated $120,000 for allowing the conduit to be installed.
The company will install 16 conduits -- four sets of four tubes that carry telecommunications lines -- to increase the underground capacity. Under the arrangement, three of the 16 conduits will be set aside for the city, which plans to lease the tubes to generate extra revenue, officials said.
"We think this will be a great leap forward for the city of Baltimore," said David Scott, the city's deputy mayor for operations.
Mayor Martin O'Malley said the arrangement could help lure business to the city.
"This has economic development ramifications well beyond the amount it's going to put into the city," O'Malley said.