Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat

Construction crews worked on Friday to prep Sonora for the installation of fiber-optic wire that will bring high-speed Internet to the area, part of a federal stimulus project taking place throughout Central California.

The workers laid conduit, a plastic electrical piping system used to protect and route electrical wires, underneath a few hundred feet of Barretta Street near Church and Gold streets.

The entire installation in Sonora was slated to be completed in August but fell behind schedule because of difficulty drilling the rocky terrain underneath the roads, according to officials with the Central Valley Independent Network.

The construction is part of the "Central Valley Next-Generation Broadband Infrastructure Project," a federal-stimulus funded project that aims to improve high-speed Internet access in underserved and rural areas.

A collaborative effort between the Central Valley Independent Network and the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives of California, the project encompasses 18 Central Valley counties including Tuolumne and Calaveras.

Work in Tuolumne County was 16 percent complete as of Friday afternoon, and construction in Calaveras was 81 percent complete, said Mike Stewart, the director of marketing for the network.

El Dorado and Nevada counties are also undergoing construction.

Stewart said the mountainous counties are taking longer to complete because they do not have soft soil underneath the roads like counties in the Central Valley.

"We were a little optimistic about when that would be complete, but it's all under way now," he said.

According to Stewart, about 5,000 feet of conduit can be installed per day when there is soft soil to work with, but as little as 300 feet can be placed when the terrain is rocky.

The projected completion time for the Central Valley project as a whole is August 2013, but Stewart said all counties could have high-speed Internet access as early as February.

The Central Valley Independent Network will soon be adding two more directional-boring crews to the seven crews that are already operating in Tuolumne to speed up the construction.

"We're pushing hard to try to get through the area as fast as we can," he said.

City Engineer Gerard Fuccillo informed the Sonora City Council at its April 2 meeting that the main encroachment permit had been issued for the installation along about 4.5 miles of city roads. By the end of the project, portions of 22 city streets will have been under construction.

The conduit is installed through open-trench construction in unpaved areas but is placed under streets and sidewalks through directional drilling, which requires drilling small holes into the pavement instead of a large trench.

On Barretta Street, workers used a directional drilling machine to create a horizontal tunnel under the road and feed the conduit through it, said DitchWitch trenchless specialist Jon Morrow.

The fiber-optic wire will be blown into one of the four microducts of the conduit using a high-powered compression system known as fiber-jetting, Stewart said.

The Central Valley Independent Network can feed more fiber-optic cables into the other three microducts in the future or sell the microducts to other service providers.

The Internet project is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provided $7.2 billion in stimulus money for projects to increase high-speed Internet access, particularly in rural or underserved areas.

It will increase Internet speeds for public schools and community colleges as well as provide more reliable service for public safety institutions and hospitals.

Stewart said it could also be distributed wirelessly to homes.