Money for Street-Side Improvements

Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) has announced he will add $100 million from the state's transportation trust fund to improve street-scapes and sidewalks across the state. The announcement came during the annual Maryland Municipal League Convention.

The state currently spends about $50 million a year on such programs, but Glendening told municipal leaders that he would set aside $150 million for the coming year for the program.

Eligible improvements include curbs and gutters, repaving, lighting and bus shelters. There is no limit to the amount of the grants, which are available through the Maryland Department of Transportation.

County Phone Problems Almost Fixed

Montgomery County officials said county government telephones should be working smoothly by tomorrow after several days of problems that accompanied the switch to a new telephone system Monday.

During the past three days, many callers into the county system were unable to get through, often getting busy signals, recorded messages or no answer at all. The most serious problems took place Monday and Tuesday.

By yesterday, officials said most of the new numbers, which use the new 240 area code and either a new 777 or 773 exchange, were working. Still, some employees reported scattered problems with voice mail. In addition, technicians were working to reprogram the county's fax machines.

The switch to the new system, which is costing the county $5.1 million, will give Montgomery added capacity as the number of available lines under the old 217 exchange shrinks. By reserving the two new exchanges, the county will have capacity for 20,000 phone lines.

Drought Killing Thousands of Fish

Farmers aren't the only ones struggling because of a drought. So are fish.

Thousands of fish in tributaries of the Patapsco and Magothy rivers have died over the past week because of lack of oxygen, caused in part by drought, say state environment officials.

Such widespread oxygen depletion has not been seen in more than a decade, said Charles A. Poukish, an environmental specialist with the state Department of the Environment.

Affected tributaries along the Patapsco River include: the Inner Harbor, Bear Creek, Marley Creek, Colgate Creek, Curtis Bay, Furnace Creek, Stony Creek and Bodkin Creek. The Magothy River's affected waterways are: Cattail Creek, Cockey Creek and Deep Creek.

Eel, yellow and white perch, chain pickerel, largemouth bass, menhaden and catfish have died.


Traffic Cameras Installed at 2 Corners

The District has begun using traffic cameras to catch red-light runners at two intersections, New York Avenue and Third Street NW, and 14th and U streets NW, said Rai Howell, a police spokesman.

Police plan to install 40 traffic cameras throughout the city by the end of the year, Howell said.

The cameras will be used to monitor red-light running and speeding. After a one-month warning period that will end July 31, violators who are caught on camera will be mailed citations along with photos of the violation, Howell said.

Sensors embedded in the road and linked to the traffic light trigger the cameras when the light turns red, said Ron Jury, a spokesman for contractor Lockheed Martin IMS. The company also has installed traffic cameras in Baltimore, San Diego and Charlotte, Jury said.


Hospital Seeks Dismissal of Baby Suit

Lawyers representing the University of Virginia hospital, where two babies were switched at birth four years ago, yesterday accused one of the babies' mothers of being greedy and filed court papers seeking the dismissal of her $31 million lawsuit.

The hospital's legal team, including a lawyer with the state attorney general's office, accused Paula Johnson of trying to take money away from her children by rejecting the state's settlement offer of $2 million.

They called her lawsuit, filed last month, outrageous and baseless.

Johnson has sued the hospital for medical malpractice and has claimed the hospital violated her civil rights by depriving her of the ability to raise her own child.

Last week, Johnson also filed suit against the manufacturer of identification bands that she, the other mother and both babies wore at the hospital when she gave birth.

Writer Gives Money for Forensic Training

Crime writer Patricia Cornwell has donated $1.5 million to help Virginia officials create an institute to train forensic scientists and pathologists.

The state forensic science building in downtown Richmond will be the home of the new Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine. The first class of 10 students will begin studies next week.

"This is a direct way to fight against the very thing I hate so much--violence against people," Cornwell said Tuesday. "I envision this as becoming the Johns Hopkins of forensic science and medical training. I want it to be an international learning center."

The state forensic lab and medical examiner's office is where Cornwell picked up many of the details for her science-based novels, and her Kay Scarpetta character was inspired by Marcella Fierro, Virginia's chief medical examiner.

Snake Causes Power Failure in Alexandria

A snake that had slithered up a utility pole in Alexandria yesterday morning caused a short circuit that blew out power to nearly 1,000 customers and electrocuted the snake.

Crews looking for the source of the early morning power outage found the five-foot snake draped across the top of the pole in the 300 block of Colvin Street.

A utility company dispatcher said the black snake apparently slithered up the pole and died when it came in contract with both sides of a live circuit. That blew a fuse at the top of the pole and temporarily knocked out power in the area.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "A Mister Stripy is not real pretty. They'll be kind of gnarled on top. But the people that are really connoisseurs of tomatoes will go back to the Mister Stripy." -- Jim Huyett, speaking of a variety of tomato among the produce that he trucks to local farmers markets