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Correction to This Article
A Metro item misstated the amount of the budget gap facing the Virginia Department of Transportation. It is $2.9 billion, not $2.9 million.
Montgomery Rescuers Search for Swimmer; Takoma Station to Close Today, Saturday; AAA: Don't Close Virginia Rest Stops

Thursday, July 16, 2009

EDUCATION

Virginia Home-Schoolers Can Seek State Aid

Home-schoolers in Virginia are now eligible for state financial aid that they were previously not allowed to receive.

The Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program, which provides need-based scholarships for tuition, fees and books at the state's two- and four-year public institutions, required recipients to have graduated from high school with at least a 2.5 grade-point average.

The state's approximately 30,000 home-schoolers were ineligible for the aid, which offered an average grant of $3,671 in the 2007-08 school year.

Under rules the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia approved this week, home-schoolers may qualify by submitting SAT scores of at least 900 and ACT scores of at least 19.

The rules were mandated by SB-1547, a bill sponsored by state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax) that became law in May. Cuccinelli, whose children are home-schooled, is running for state attorney general.

State officials do not expect significantly more students to seek aid as a result of the rule change, said Lee Andes, associate director of financial aid for the council.

Students who receive a GED instead of a high school diploma are still not eligible for the program, he said.

-- Emma Brown

TRANSPORTATION

Takoma Station to Close Today, Saturday

Metro announced last night that the Takoma Station will close from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.

The closures will allow the National Transportation Safety Board to conduct site-distance tests on the section of Red Line track between Fort Totten and Takoma where a June 22 crash killed nine people and injured 80.

During the closure, Metro will shuttle passengers by bus among Takoma, Fort Totten and Silver Spring.

-- James Hohmann

Regional Board Endorses Bus System Request

An ambitious proposal to seek nearly $276 million in federal stimulus to create a regional bus way system yesterday won the support of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, a panel of elected officials from Virginia, Maryland and the District that coordinates transit initiatives.

The board authorized staff members to refine and submit a bid for some of the $1.5 billion available as part of the stimulus spending on transportation. The plan must be submitted by September, and the funding is reserved for projects that can be completed by 2012.

More than $400 million would have to come from local, state and other federal sources to complete a system that would allow buses to move swiftly from a revamped K Street corridor and out into the suburbs using HOV lanes, dedicated bus lanes, electronics to switch traffic lights in their favor and various other ways to bypass congestion. The federal stimulus request was pared down from $412 million yesterday, and staff members said they expect to make further adjustments as evaluate each component of the plan.

-- Ashley Halsey III

AAA: Don't Close Virginia Rest Stops

The American Automobile Association weighed in yesterday on the delicate but controversial issue of how far is too far to go without a bathroom break, urging Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to abandon plans to close 19 of the state's highway rest stops to save money.

In announcing the plan this month, state officials said they had concluded that one rest stop every 120 miles was just about right. AAA issued a statement yesterday saying that was nonsense and could be dangerous if drivers stop on shoulders or seek to relieve themselves in a bottle while driving, a practice the group said was becoming increasingly common.

"Talk about distracted and dangerous driving. I would not want to share the road with an overtired driver who is trying to relieve themselves in a bottle while driving 65 miles per hour," said Martha M. Meade, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Eighteen rest stops are scheduled to close next week. The last, on Interstate 66 in Manassas, is to close Sept. 16.

"This wasn't an easy decision. We're facing a $2.9 million budget gap," said Jeff Caldwell of the Virginia Department of Transportation.

-- Ashley Halsey III

LAW ENFORCEMENT

Montgomery Rescuers Search for Swimmer

Montgomery County rescue crews were expected to continue their search this morning for a 32-year-old man last seen in the Potomac River on Tuesday afternoon.

Rescue workers were called to the riverbank near the Old Angler's Inn at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. A man told them that he and a friend had tried to swim across the Potomac but that he last saw his friend in the water about 3:15 p.m., said Assistant Chief Scott Graham, spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.

It was unclear why the friend waited so long to call 911, said Graham, who declined to identify the missing swimmer. Graham warned people not to swim in the area, even when the current looks safe. Large rocks can trap swimmers under water. "It's dangerous. It's deadly," Graham said.

-- Dan Morse

GOVERNMENT

WSSC Commissioners Elect Chairman

Gene Counihan, a Montgomery County representative on the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's board of commissioners, was elected chairman of the panel yesterday, the agency said.

Counihan, a state delegate from 1983 to 1995, has served as a commissioner since 2007. He was selected unanimously by the WSSC board, which is made up of three members each from Montgomery and Prince George's County. The WSSC provides water and sewer services to 1.8 million customers in the counties.

Counihan said finding money to replace the agency's aging underground pipes will be a top priority. The water pipes have been breaking in record numbers in recent years.

-- Katherine Shaver

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