Metro eliminates paper transfers
Metro this weekend is eliminating paper transfer coupons that allow riders to transfer free between buses and from buses to trains for discounted rates.
Starting Sunday, the discounts will only be available to riders who use electronic SmarTrip fare cards. Bus riders can transfer to another bus free or save 50 cents on a train ride.
The changes aim to encourage riders to use the plastic fare cards, which eliminate the need for exact change on buses, Metro said. The SmarTrip cards also speed up boarding to keep buses on schedule and reduce fraud associated with the paper transfers.
The change is expected to save Metro at least $300,000 a year in paper and printing costs. A staff report also estimates the change could help generate millions more in revenue from Metro’s bus operation.
Metro tests extra trains
Metro will test additional eight-car trains on certain lines next week as it gears up for Inauguration Day, the agency said.
Metro typically uses six- to eight-car trains on the Red, Orange and Green lines, officials said.
On Monday and Tuesday, Metro will test extra eight-car trains during morning and afternoon rush hour on the Blue and Orange lines. Eight-car trains also will be used on those lines during off-peak hours.
The same process will occur Wednesday and Thursday on the Red line, with additional eight-car trains running during peak times.
In addition, all trains will stop at the end of each station platform. Riders should move to the far end of the platform to board, officials said.
Suspect charged in church mugging
A man has been arrested in the baseball bat beating and mugging of an elderly man outside a church on Christmas Eve, WTOP Radio reported Friday.
Prince George’s County police arrested Shanon Washington, 28, of Capitol Heights, on New Year’s Day.
Mr. Washington is charged with attempted murder, assault and robbery in the baseball bat attack on Wayne Williams, 69, in the parking lot of the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church.
Mr. Williams’ son Jonathan said his dad is “recovering very well” after the attack.
“It’s unbelievable that something like this would happen to him,” he told WTOP.
Mr. Williams had just dropped off his wife — who was singing in the choir during midnight Mass — when he was attacked.
Mr. Washington has an extensive criminal history, police told WTOP.
Legion Bridge partly closed for repairs
A heavily traveled bridge along the Capital Beltway remains partially closed while road crews work to repair cracks.
The left lane of the American Legion Bridge was closed Wednesday after cracks were found throughout a beam.
The Maryland State Highway Administration is trying to catch infrastructure problems as early as possible, spokesman Dave Buck told WTOP Radio. It’s more like “filling a cavity rather than pulling a tooth,” he said.
The 45-year-old bridge connects Maryland and Virginia and crosses the Potomac River near Washington. An additional lane may be shut down this weekend while other areas of the bridge are inspected.
The administration plans to have all lanes open by Monday.
Bridges in Maryland are inspected at least once every two years.
Group to file suit to clean up Bay
A conservation group plans to file a lawsuit in Washington next week to force stronger federal action to clean up pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Environmental Protection Agency has failed to impose strong anti-pollution measures through the Clean Water Act, as required by federal law, said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William Baker.
Mr. Baker said he’s hoping the lawsuit will catch the attention of EPA’s incoming administration to change course on the failed policies of the past.
That could also call attention to scores of wastewater improvements in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that a federal stimulus package could help put in motion, he said.
The foundation plans to file the lawsuit Monday.
School sports facing cuts in county
Frederick County school officials are looking at eliminating varsity swimming and all freshman sports to save money in fiscal 2009.
Under the school system’s budget-balancing proposals, the county’s three high school pools would be closed. However, coaches and parents are contacting school board members with their objections.
Middletown High School swimming coach Stacey MacMillan said now is not the time to cut swimming because the 2008 Olympics sparked new interest in the sport. The school board should make greater use of the pools for physical education, swimming lessons and lifeguard training, she said.
A public hearing on the proposed budget cuts is scheduled for Feb. 11, she said.
Feds reject pleas on offshore drilling
Federal regulators have rejected pleas from officials to delay plans for oil and gas drilling off the Virginia coast.
Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, recently asked the Minerals Management Service to postpone planning for offshore drilling until President-elect Barack Obama takes office. Several members of Congress have asked for the plans to be dropped.
Minerals Management Service Director Randall Luthi said a delay isn’t necessary because any drilling is years away and will come only after significant study and public input. The agency extended the time for public comment over the holidays.
Drilling is expected in 2011. Mr. Obama could choose to delay or speed up the process.
Mr. Obama initially opposed the idea, but now favors it.
State traffic deaths down sharply in ‘08
Traffic deaths declined to a historic low in Virginia last year.
While the number could increase, Virginia State Police on Friday reported 808 highway deaths last year. That number includes 73 pedestrian deaths.
If the number holds up, it would be 200 fewer deaths than in 2007 and the lowest number of fatalities in the more than 40 years state police have tracked highway deaths.
The previous one-year low was 839, set in 1992.
Police credit a sharp reduction in motorcycle deaths, the sour economy and state police public awareness programs.
The total number of highway deaths last year is preliminary because of the possibility someone injured in a crash could die this year.
What’s in a name? Big bucks for city
For Norfolk, the answer to Shakespeare’s famous question, “What’s in a name?” could well be “plenty of cash.”
A consultant’s report for Hampton Roads Transit estimates the city could reap up to $29 million by selling the naming rights to light-rail stations, park-and-ride lots or even the entire rail system, which is under construction.
Norfolk should pursue every revenue stream, City Councilman Randy Wright said, but the city hasn’t made a decision whether to sell naming rights yet.
It’s not a decision that has to be rushed, Assistant City Manager Stanley Stein said.
The $288 million light-rail system is projected to open in 2010.
The consultant will present its full findings in about a month, Mr. Stein said.
Former Gov. Wilder enters blogosphere
A former governor and now a former mayor, L. Douglas Wilder, is adding a contemporary pursuit to his resume: blogger.
Mr. Wilder ended his term as Richmond mayor this week by announcing he’s starting a blog called “WilderVisions.” He said he will address local and national topics on the site.
In his inaugural entry, he wrote that he’s convinced the city is heading in the right direction after his four years in office.
Virginia’s first and only African-American governor is returning to full-time teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Mr. Wilder’s successor at Richmond City Hall, Dwight Clinton Jones, was sworn in Wednesday.
From wire dispatches and staff reports