David Matthews / December 28, 2000

Written in stone

Written in stone

When three children in Virginia carved their first names into freshly laid cement, they landed in more than just hot water. They wound up in court.

The 11-year-old girl, and 12- and 13-year-old boys were charged with unlawful destruction of city property and face a possible fine of $3,000 to replace the 30-ft section of sidewalk they wrote on.

The parents of the three kids called the incident innocent child’s play, but Dan Bowman, the man who found the damaged sidewalk panels near his home, disagreed. He called the police when he found the defacing. The kids ended up in court and a judge said the city should decide if the children will ultimately be liable for the damage.

Giant fun on North Dakota highways

Who says there’s nothing to do in North Dakota? Based on the success of New Salem Sue, a 38-ft steel-and-fiberglass Holstein cow erected in 1974 alongside I-94 to honor the area’s dairy farmers, other North Dakota residences have started building giant attractions as well. Further along I-94, in Jamestown, looms a 60-ton buffalo. In Bottineau, Turtle Lake and Dunseith motorists will find giant turtles, including one made entirely of automobile wheels.

On a 32-mile stretch in southwestern North Dakota known as the Enchanted Highway, a retired school teacher has created a family of tin people, a group of pheasants and a 40-ft-long grasshopper.

And just this past summer, Susie White gave the state the bird—a 40-ft-tall steel sandhill crane, to be specific, located outside her motel and steakhouse. White hopes to attract the tired eyes of passing highway motorists and rope a few into her restaurant, but she’s also proud to be a part of what might possibly be the world’s largest collection of the world’s largest roadside attractions.

Drivers with something to hide

Last May, Frank Bedell was at the wheel of a tour bus that crashed, killing 22 people. Just months earlier he had been granted a two-year medical certificate despite a diagnosis of congestive heart failure. The day before the trip, he had undergone dialysis.

Despite regulations by the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) at commercial drivers undergo physical exams every two years, some drivers like Bedell with heart conditions, sleep disorders or other serious illnesses have been able to keep their license and continue driving.

Part of the problem is that many doctors are simply not aware of the specific demands of driving, and regulations allow "any licensed medical examiner" to administer the physicals. This allows drivers to find someone with no specialized training or demonstrated proficiency in examining commerical drivers, such as physician assistants or chiropractors, who unknowingly may be more lenient on a physical than they should be.

Proposals have been made to improve the screening process. One would borrow from the Federal Aviation Administration’s system of having designated examiners perform all driver physicals. But critics argue that it’s impractical to apply the FAA system to millions of commercial drivers. For now, drivers can continue to try and find cracks in the U.S. DOT’s system to stay on the road.

Bridge to another time

A marvel of its time, the Rainbow Bridge was an ancient timber arch bridge built in China during the 11th century. With only a silk painting depicting the bridge in its original village, a structural engineer from HNTB Corp.’s Boston office recently assisted a team of Chinese engineers to reconstruct the bridge to its original size. In the three weeks the team was on location in Shanghai, they also managed to build a bamboo suspension bridge over a gorge from scratch.

High waits on U.S. highways

Indianapolis highways are no race tracks in the mornings. The latest annual report on congestion from the Texas Transportation Institue said the time spent stuck in traffic in Indianapolis rose 225% in five years to 52 hours a year, well over the 29% national average increase.

But that’s still not as bad as the reigning king of wasted driving time, Los Angeles. Drivers in L.A. waste 82 hours a year, two full work weeks, in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Commuters in San Jose, Calif., however, actually saw their time on the road decrease, while drivers in the San Francisco/ Oakland area; Hartford-Middletown, Conn.; Brownsville, Texas; and Honolulu saw no change in their delays.

While two-thirds of peak-time travel in urban centers in 1982 was easygoing, the report found that two-thirds of peak travel today is through moderate to extreme congestion.

The report also stated that drivers in the 35 most-congested areas of the country on average waste four extra tanks of gas each year waiting in traffic.

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