Archive for February, 2010

Supporters of Health Care Reform Walk from Philly to D.C.

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

If you’ve thought about visiting Philadelphia lately, it probably didn’t occur to you to walk there. But for the members of Melanie’s March, hoofing the approximately 135 miles from Philly to Washington was the only way to show they are serious about health care reform.

The small group of Pennsylvanians rallied with at least 90 supporters at the University of Maryland College Park campus Tuesday evening to encourage Congress to compromise quickly at President Obama’s health care summit Thursday.

Melanie’s March was named after Melanie Shouse, who died of breast cancer after she was unable to afford health insurance that would cover the treatment.

“Everyone that we meet knows a story, has their own story … about how they couldn’t get health care,” said Marc Stier, who organized Melanie’s March. “It’s not a problem for poor people. It’s not a problem for rich people. It cuts across the board.”

Participants in the eight-day walk included friends of Shouse, their supporters, and those with their own stories of health problems as uninsured patients.

Most of the marchers did not walk for a full eight days. There was always a safety vehicle, and some participants went back to Philadelphia at times to go to work.

College Park was the 12th city the group has rallied in since Feb. 17, and Washington will be the last.

Rion Dennis, the political director of Progressive Maryland, told attendees to take out their cell phones and call Congress. He pulled his own out, too.

“Thank [your member of congress],” said Dennis. “And tell them to tell [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid to pass the damn bill.”

Although fewer than 10 people made the walk from Philadelphia, at least 500 have signed up to walk the home stretch from Union Station to Congress.

Advocacy groups have also created a virtual march for those who can’t make it to the capital. This allows the groups to create and send letters to participants’ senators in the individual’s name, telling them to make reform happen.

Those who have walked what would have been a two-hour-and-forty-five-minute drive, according to MapQuest, will arrive at the Dirksen Senate Building Wednesday afternoon.

Members of the core group, who will walk from College Park to Union Station in the morning, will leave from the station at 12:30 p.m. and will be met by Reid and others at the Senate building at 2 p.m.

By Capital News Service’s Rachel Leven.

Md. Transit Center, Bus Routes Win Grants

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Maryland won several federal transportation grants, beating out hundreds of other applications, under the latest round of stimulus funds awarded Wednesday.

The announcement for $1.5 billion in TIGER grants, which stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, came on the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Recovery Act.

One grant, for $14.8 million, will go a new transit center in Langley Park at the intersection of University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue. It will also help fund improvements for bus routes in the Washington-metropolitan area.

A press release from Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both Baltimore Democrats, said that construction for the Langley Park transit center is expected to begin this May and to be completed by February 2012. The construction project could create up to 134 jobs.

Another grant for $98 million grant will begin to improve CSX freight rail corridors that run through Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The initial $98 million will go to upgrading the corridor from northwest Ohio to Pennsylvania.

Maryland Department of Transportation spokeswoman Erin Henson said Maryland will work with the federal government to find future grants to fund freight rail improvements in the state.

Gov. Martin O’Malley said through spokesman Shaun Adamec the grants show the Obama administration’s commitment to infrastructure that is often overlooked and underfunded.

“Investing in our infrastructure creates jobs that can’t be outsourced, and helps get Marylanders back to work,” O’Malley added.

The U.S. Department of Transportation received more than 1,400 applications for projects all over the U.S. worth almost $60 billion, 40 times the amount available for this round of grants. More than half of the funding will go to economically distressed areas.

President Obama referenced the grants in a speech Wednesday marking the Recovery Act anniversary, which he said are going to “over 50 innovative transportation projects across America — everything from railroads in Appalachia to a new passenger terminal in New Orleans.”

-By Capital News Service’s Tiffany March

Breast Cancer Screening Bill Fails

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

The House Health and Government committee voted “Unfavorable” on a breast cancer screening bill Tuesday. House Bill 182 would have locked the state into following the American Cancer Society’s 2010 mammogram recommendations, which state that women between 20 and 40 should receive mammograms every three years and receive annual mammograms starting at 40.

Maryland’s current law requires the state follow the American Cancer Society’s most up-to-date guidelines, which are sometimes revised. These recommendations indicate what insurance companies are required to pay for by the state.

One of the bill’s key supporters notified the committee of its change of position, from for to against, approximately a week before the vote. The American Cancer Society’s switch upset the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Donna Stifler, R-Harford.

“I have the utmost respect for the American Cancer Society and what they do on an international level and a national level. What I can’t respect is this blatant flip flop and women’s health being at risk,” said Stifler, explaining that she was unaware of the society’s decision until she received its e-mail to the committee. “How do we know they’re not going to change their minds when it comes to mammogram screening?”

The bill was created in response to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s November report, which stated that women only need mammograms every two years starting at age 50.

The American Cancer Society emailed delegates of the committee Feb. 8, retracting its support.

“It is simply unwise to limit ourselves to a specific date when we know and hope that advances will occur in cancer screening and early cancer detection past January 1, 2010,” said American Cancer Society Government Relations Director Bonita Pennino in the e-mail. “By freezing insurance coverage … House Bill 182 has the potential of limiting breast cancer screening options for women going into the future.”

By Capital News Service’s Rachel Leven

Snow Causes Hundreds of Md. Highway Accidents

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Maryland State Police have responded to more than 700 accidents since Friday, when the first of two blizzards hit the region, said spokesman Greg Shipley.

More than a third of the accidents included personal injuries or required vehicles to be towed.

But none of the accidents were fatal.

“This is an unprecedented storm period,” Shipley said. “The accidents have correlated to reflect such.”

Prince George’s County Police Department spokesman Henry Tippett called the lack of fatalities a blessing, and credited the snow with deterring deaths.

“Because of the snow, people can’t speed,” he said.

Shipley said the accidents occurred with more frequency than in a normal week, but were not concentrated in any specific area. He said the majority were caused by people driving vehicles not equipped to handle the hazardous conditions.

“We urge everybody to really evaluate whether they have a reason to drive,” Shipley said.

–By Maryland Newsline’s Zettler Clay

It’s Official: Record Snowfall for Baltimore Area

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

The National Weather Service made it official at about 7 a.m. this morning, when it recorded 5.2 inches of new snow at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

That accumulation was enough to give Baltimore a record snowfall for the season –besting the 62.5 inches recorded at the airport during 1995-’96.

And snow was still falling.

What remains to be seen is by how many inches the season record will be smashed. At BWI, the two-day accumulation stood at 11.9 inches at 1 p.m. today. That means the new season record of 72.3 inches had already smashed the old one by nearly 10 inches.

Record keeping for snowfall in Baltimore dates back as far as 1893.

New records were also set at Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

An update extended the current winter storm warning to 10 p.m. this evening.

The weather service has added a blizzard warning to the mix, thanks to wind gusts of up to 40 mph in some areas. The service issued a warning earlier today urging drivers to stay at home due to the blizzard-like winds and whiteout conditions.

It said Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties and the city of Baltimore were experiencing the harshest conditions. And in Baltimore, city officials warned that only emergency vehicles were allowed on the roads.

–From Maryland Newsline’s Ben Giles

Roads in Prince George’s County were narrow or impassable on Wednesday, when the second blizzard in a week hit the region. (Photo by Maryland Newsline’s Ben Giles)

Power Outages Expected, More Snow on Way

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Thousands of Marylanders are still without power following last weekend’s blizzard, and officials say more outages could occur during the snowstorm expected to move into the region today.

Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. reported more than 98,000 power outages among its customers since Friday’s snowfall–most in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. As of Tuesday afternoon, 97,982 had been restored, leaving a little over 500 without power.

BGE has more than 1.26 million customers in Maryland.

Pepco fielded calls on about 108,000 power outages at the height of the storm, said Bob Hainey, Pepco manager of media relations. More than 80,000 of them were in the Montgomery County area.

“Montgomery County has a lot of trees,” Hainey said, “and once snow hits the trees, the power lines are next.”

Pepco restored more than 70,000 homes in Montgomery County. But as of Tuesday afternoon, there were 9,190 Montgomery County Pepco customers still without power, 255 in Prince George’s County and 193 in Washington, D.C., Hainey said.

Spokesmen for both companies said their crews are working around the clock to restore power.

BGE has “linemen from Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio assisting us,” said BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy.

More power outages are expected today and tomorrow, officials said, when another 10 to 20 inches of snow are expected to fall in the region, topping the two or more feet that fell last weekend.

Hainey said those with existing power outages will be first priority and will not fall to the bottom of the queue.

If power goes out in your home, Foy urged using flashlights rather than candles, which are a safety hazard.

BGE also asks customers to clear vent pipes and outside meters, to prevent them from malfunctioning.

Hainey urged customers to be mindful of carbon monoxide, which can come from using charcoal grills too close to the house or operating portable generators improperly. Carbon monoxide can go undetected in a home because it’s without a smell.

“We tell people don’t do anything to project carbon monoxide, because it can kill you,” Hainey said.

By Maryland Newsline’s Zettler Clay

Region in Store for Record Snowfall

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

If current weather predictions are right, the Baltimore-Washington region will easily surpass its previous all-time high for snow accumulation in one season.

The current accumulation for this 2009-2010 season stands at 60.4 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Airport — good for second in the history books, according to the National Weather Service:

  • 62.5 inches (1995-96)
  • 60.4 inches (2009-10)
  • 58.2 inches (2002-03)
  • 51.8 inches (1963-62)

Another 10 to 20 inches of snowfall in the region are expected between this afternoon and 7 p.m. Wednesday, according to the latest winter storm warning issued by the weather service. Snow is expected to be accompanied by strong winds.

From Maryland Newsline’s Ben Giles

Stores in Overdrive Stocking Shelves for Storm

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Long lines of cautious customers left several shelves at a Safeway in Bowie barren on Friday, as snow began settling on the region.

The usual panic purchases of milk, eggs and toilet paper were hit the hardest, said Craig M. Muckle, public affairs manager of Safeway’s Eastern Division.

But, Muckle said, more stock should be on the way. Trucks are scheduled to make more deliveries to stores overnight into Saturday morning, so long as roads are safe.

The only item that may remain out of stock is bread, which is shipped to stores from an external vendor, he said.

Muckle credited long-term weather forecasts with allowing his store managers the time needed to order extra shipments of food and supplies. Leading up to a snow storm, Safeway will sell as much as three times its normal percentage of stock, he said.

Since this weekend is also Super Bowl weekend, customers have also been stocking up on party and snack foods in anticipation of Sunday’s big game.

Landover resident Michelle Peters left the Fairview Parkway Safeway in Bowie with an overflowing grocery cart.

“We’re mostly covering junk food,” Peters said. “We’re only having a few friends over, but some of them are bottomless pits.”

-By Maryland Newsline’s Ben Giles

Kyle Johnson rings up a grocery cart full of goods for Landover resident Michelle Peters,
left, at the Fairview Parkway Safeway in Bowie.

(Photo by Maryland Newsline’s Ben Giles)

Winter Storm Hits, Drivers Urged to Stay Home

Friday, February 5th, 2010

The Maryland State Highway Administration is urging drivers to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary while this winter snow storm barrels through the region.

SHA spokesman David Buck says snow plows will do their best to keep roads clean and safe, but in a storm like this, there are no guarantees.

“I think it’s going to be about managing expectations out there,” he said. “For us, we’re just going to try to keep up.”

NOAA’s National Weather Service says its winter storm warning for the D.C.-metro region and greater Maryland will remain in effect until 10 p.m. Saturday, when meteorologists expect the snowfall to subside. Accumulation estimates now range from 20 to 30 inches of snow.

It’s unclear if roads will be ready for people to drive to work and school on Monday.

“That would be an answer we have at the end of the storm,” Buck said. “As we saw last weekend, the weather predictions can be way off, and there’s absolutely no way to know how soon roads will be ready until the storm is over.”

Maryland has already blown through its $26 million snow-removal budget this year; $50 million had already been spent before this weekend’s storm, Buck said.

–By Maryland Newsline’s Ben Giles

Snow Expected to Come Soon, and Hard

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

About two feet of snow could blanket the Washington-metro region and other parts of Maryland this weekend, forecasters predict.

NOAA’s National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning that will go into effect at 6 a.m. Friday, when forecasters expect snowfall to begin. Snow could continue until 10 p.m. Saturday, said Kevin Witt, a NOAA meteorologist.

Anywhere from 20 to 28 inches are expected to fall across Maryland, Witt said.

Witt said it’s still unclear whether or not this winter will set records for snowfall. But this storm will easily keep snow accumulation above the typical yearly average, he said. Snowfall at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is already 25.4 inches above the normal snowfall to date. Since July 1, 2009, 35.6 inches of snow have blanketed the airport.

This weekend’s snow is expected to be a heavy, wet mixture that could make snow removal difficult.

Since the name “snowpocalypse” was used for the snow storm that blanketed the region the weekend of Dec. 18 with about 20 inches of snow, The Washington Post is running a survey to find a name for the impending storm.

Feel free to leave comments here with your own suggestions — and with observations from your neighborhood.

By Maryland Newsline’s Ben Giles