Avoiding Thin Ice

The idea of driving a truck across a frozen expanse of water may sound a little iffy to people living in warmer climates. But ice bridges, which traverse rivers and lakes, and ice roads, which travel along frozen rivers, are common transportation links in the northern regions of Canada, Alaska, Europe and Russia. In Canada's far north, ice roads and bridges are often the only economical way to get materials to and from remote towns and mining operations.

Canada's Government of the North West Territories and contractors actually build and maintain ice bridges and roads throughout the winter season until the thaw comes in April, said Peter Dyck, fleet facilities officer of the Department of Highways.

The bridges are built in layers, he said, and the Department of Highways and contractors use a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) system to track the thickness of the ice. The GPR system is pulled behind a snowmobile or other small vehicle.

The system combines GPR data with GPS data so government officials can get a precise correlation between ice depth and physical location of the bridge. The data also can be fed into a GIS software package to create color-coded maps that display weak spots.

Road repair and maintenance crews use the maps to target areas that need attention, Dyck said, and officials scan the ice for potentially fatal faults.

"There's a certain panic to move loads across these roads before we close them in mid-April. In previous years, we've had traffic jams as a result of people showing up as late as midnight on the last day," he said. The department estimates that more than 4,000 heavy loads crossed ice bridges between January and March last year.

Eyes on Emissions

For the past five years, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles' emission control program has monitored vehicle emissions in the Las Vegas metropolitan area under a mandate of the EPA.

Nevada has used remote-sensing technology -- roadside cameras and emissions-monitoring equipment -- to track the tailpipes of approximately 20,000 autos in the Las Vegas area, said Lloyd Nelson, program manager.

Every year, some public grumbling accompanies newspaper stories about the testing, Nelson said. But this year, the grumbling is decidedly louder, focusing on the roadside cameras.

In April, state Sen. Mark James, R-Las Vegas, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that using the roadside cameras could violate a state law banning the use of cameras for traffic enforcement -- a law that James co-authored. The law prohibits the use of roadside cameras for traffic enforcement unless the camera is held by a law enforcement officer or mounted on a law enforcement facility or vehicle.

But Nelson said the cameras are essential because the DMV needs to gather license plate numbers to get information on vehicles' year of manufacture.

"The remote sensing is being used to evaluate [our] emissions program's performance, general research, evaluating the fleet in the area [and] evaluating certain vehicles that are high emitters. That's the focus that the DMV has taken over the last five years," Nelson said.

James contends that using unmanned cameras to gather information that ultimately could result in a notification of suspended registration for failure to pass emissions tests is ultimately an enforcement action and doesn't comply with state law.

Counties Quake at Cable Revenue Shortfall

In March the Federal Communication Commission reclassified cable Internet connections as an information service instead of a cable service, and fallout from that ruling already is hitting Maryland counties.

Comcast Cable told several counties they would no longer receive cable-modem franchise fees from the company because the FCC decision means the company is no longer