THE REGION

Forum Focuses on Transportation Ideas

Transportation experts discussed ideas about high-occupancy toll lanes, more bicycle paths and even ferries as solutions to the Washington region's traffic woes yesterday at the Prince William County Transportation Symposium.

The event, which included presentations from nine speakers, was the first of three intended to inform the public about plans and funding for Interstate 95, commuter parking and local roads, said Sean T. Connaughton (R), chairman of the Board of County Supervisors.

Mary Lynn Tischer, director of Virginia's Multimodal Transportation Planning Office, said the state will run out of funds for road construction by 2018 or, in a best-case scenario, by 2025. "This is a bleak and unacceptable long-term picture," she said at the McCoart Administration Building.

Former state transportation secretary John G. Milliken promoted public-private partnerships while C. Kenneth Orski, editor of the Innovative Briefs transportation newsletter, pointed to high-occupancy toll lanes as an answer to funding and traffic problems.

The next sessions will be from 5 to 9 p.m. July 11 at Stonewall Middle School, 10100 Lomond Dr. in Manassas, and July 14 at the Dr. A.J. Ferlazzo Building, 15941 Donald Curtis Dr. in Woodbridge.

THE DISTRICT

Agency Raises City's Credit Rating to A

Fitch Ratings raised the District's credit rating to A from A- yesterday, giving the city a solid A grade from all three major bond agencies for the first time in decades.

In a news release, Fitch said the upgrade "reflects the ongoing financial improvement started in the late 1990s" as well as "increased strength in a number of key economic indicators."

Although Fitch remains concerned about the city's high debt, which will increase as it builds a baseball stadium for the Washington Nationals, the agency said it also foresees continued strong revenue growth.

Standard & Poor's also has given the District an A rating, while Moody's Investors Service ranks the city as an A-2. The top rating is AAA.

"This is a profound achievement for our city," Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said in a statement. "All of the major rating agencies have recognized the financial discipline exercised by the District's elected leadership. I hope that Congress will recognize our efforts by supporting greater budget and fiscal autonomy for the District."

Workers Stranded in Air Shaft Rescued

D.C. firefighters rescued two contractors who became stranded yesterday in the air shaft of an office building in Northwest Washington, officials said.

The contractors were working on a cooling and heating system in the 900 block of 15th Street NW when their platform broke about 12:30 p.m., stranding them in the air shaft, fire officials said. About an hour later, two firefighters rappelled down ropes from the building's eighth floor and pulled the workers to safety. No injuries were reported.

MARYLAND

Dozens of New Laws Set to Take Effect

New laws that will shed more light on the sale of state-owned forests and parks, create a tax-free, back-to-school shopping period in August and require schools to maintain records on the bullying of students are among dozens of measures from the 2005 General Assembly session that will take effect tomorrow.

The law dealing with sale of state-owned property resulted from a proposal last year by the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to buy 838 acres of St. Mary's County timberland for $2.5 million and then sell it for about the same amount to the owner of a Baltimore construction company.

The law establishes additional requirements for a governor to follow before selling land that had been bought for conservation purposes.

The tax break on clothing sales will apply Aug. 23 to 27. The temporary elimination of the 5 percent sales tax will apply only to clothing and shoes that cost $100 or less.

Ocean City's Lone Campground Sold

The only camping spot in Ocean City has been sold, officials announced Tuesday.

Wilma Thomas, manager of Ocean City Campground, said its owners have decided to sell the property for development.

"The most feasible use for this property is not as a campground at this time," Thomas told the Daily Times in Salisbury.

Donna Abbott, an Ocean City spokeswoman, said development trends within the city are leading property owners away from RV campgrounds and tent sites.

The Ocean City Campground is a 200-lot facility that has stayed in place for several decades. Thomas said the occupants of the lots will have until Nov. 20 to move out.

Recovered Body May Be Teen Rescuer's

Baltimore searchers said they believe they have recovered the body of a teenager who has been missing since he helped rescue three children from the swollen waters of Gwynns Falls on Tuesday.

A body believed to be that of Joey Cox, 17, was found early yesterday in the falls near Carroll Park Municipal Golf Course, fire department spokesman Kevin Cartwright said. The body was found about a mile downstream from where the young man was last seen Tuesday evening.

Cox and three others were swimming in the waterway Tuesday afternoon when a sudden, heavy downpour caused the water to rise and the current to quicken.

While rescue and television helicopters hovered overhead, Cox helped a 10-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl to safety before being swept away by the current. Another 10-year-old boy made it to a boulder, then was rescued by an unidentified youth who jumped across and carried him to safety.

Baltimore State's Attorney to Retire in '06

Sandra O'Connor, Baltimore County's state's attorney for more than three decades, has said she will retire. The Republican said she will retire in December 2006 when her eighth term ends, according to a news release. O'Connor has been both criticized and praised for her aggressive use of the death penalty.

"We call them 'Johnny Jaguar,' the typical K Street lobbyists who buy all the tickets and don't show for the game."

-- Colin Mills, president of a Nationals fan club, on corporations that bought season tickets and often fail to use them. -- A1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Lori Montgomery, Del Quentin Wilber and Nikita Stewart and the Associated Press.