Great Lakes Tunnel might have other utility

Fiber optic cable

Improves 911 service and broadband for Michigan residents

June 9, 2021

You heard it right.

Your 911 service and internet could be improving in the near future thanks to Enbridge’s Great Lakes Tunnel Project.

If the State of Michigan approves plans by an area telecommunications company to use the Tunnel Project, increased reliability of 911 service and expanded broadband are among two of the most important benefits Michiganders will receive.

At a June 2 Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority (MSCA) meeting, Peninsula Fiber Network (PFN) shared it filed a letter of intent with the State to use space in the Great Lakes Tunnel.  In addition to operating a 911 network that serves the majority of Michigan counties, the Marquette-based company provides telecommunication services, including the tools to support and expand broadband.

PFN’s General Manger Scott Randall called it an opportunity that could benefit Michiganders.

"We would place a significant fiber-optic facility within the utility corridor in the tunnel," Randall said at the MSCA meeting. "We would make that available to any other provider who wants to utilize that route. Doing so, we feel would help ensure stable and secure communications for the state of Michigan.”

Utility tunnel comes into focus, serving more people

When Michigan agreed to the tunnel concept, the idea was to place Line 5 in a tunnel below the lakebed, so it would be safer and secure and not in the water. The Agreements between Michigan and Enbridge envision a utility tunnel that would not only house the Line 5 oil pipeline but also other valuable services, like expanded, high-speed internet services.

Now that vision is beginning to take shape.

“While the Great Lakes Tunnel will eliminate the risk of an anchor strike and the chance of a spill into the Straits, it also will deliver other practical and economic value for Michiganders, particularly those in the Upper and northern Lower peninsulas,” said Enbridge’s Peter Holran, director of state government affairs, who presented an update to the MSCA.

“PFN’s plan to utilize the Great Lakes Tunnel for fiber optic cable will strengthen broadband connectivity and reliability.  We welcome PFN as we work with the MSCA to make this next generation of vital energy infrastructure reality.”

Besides PFN, another communication company also is interested in possibly using space in the Tunnel.

The push to build the tunnel

Enbridge is investing $500 million to construct the Great Lakes Tunnel, encasing a replacement section of Line 5 in the Straits below the lakebed. The construction project will employ hundreds of workers for several years as the tunnel-boring machine lays a new tunnel under the Straits – at the convergence of Lakes Michigan and Huron. When completed, it will become another engineering marvel, just like the Mackinac Bridge.

At the end of March, Enbridge completed the design and engineering phase for the Tunnel.  Enbridge now is moving ahead with construction contracting.

“With two key permits in hand, we are making great progress on the Great Lakes Tunnel,” said Holran. “We continue working with permitting agencies to secure the remaining permits, including a final federal permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

Placement of a segment of Line 5 within the Great Lakes Tunnel also requires authorization from the Michigan Public Service Commission.