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Friday, February 26, 2010

Storm Covers Northeast with Another Wet Blanket

NY Times

Thousands of people were without power and dozens of school districts — including all New York City public schools — were shut down on Friday morning as a lumbering late-February blizzard roosted over New York and lashed the region with driving snow.

The slow-moving storm — the third major snowstorm of the winter — was expected to dump as much as 20 inches of snow in New York City by Saturday morning, with forecasts of 30 inches of snow for the city’s northern suburbs in Orange County. The storm left wind-whipped snowdrifts of a foot or more throughout the city, and transformed Broadway into a cross-country ski track.

More than 1,000 flights in and out of New York area airports were grounded, and the city’s more than 1 million students got another snow day. Snow-loaded trees fell onto cars, roads and power lines, blocking traffic and cutting off electricity throughout the region. One man was killed Thursday afternoon when a snow-laden tree limb fell on him.

New Jersey Transit trains and buses were reporting delays throughout the state, and several towns had reports of fallen trees that in some places that were impeding traffic.

By Friday morning, the snow was still piling up across much of southern New York and New Jersey, and forecasters warned of blizzard-like conditions through Saturday morning.

“It hasn’t been advancing to the Northeast at all,” said Matt Scalora, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, N.Y. “It’s pretty stationary.”

As a low pressure system off the coast turned slowly northward and circulated over much of the region, the rain changed into snow, and winds kicked up to 35 miles an hour in the Philadelphia region. Philadelphia has already surpassed its snow record for the winter with the back-to-back storms earlier this month. The new storm was expected to add 7 to 12 inches to the 73-inch tally this season.

“It’s nice to see when it first starts, but just like everybody else, we’re tired of it,” said Capt. Kenneth Coalson of the Chester Township police in the Philadelphia suburbs.

On Thursday afternoon, Pennsylvania officials had reduced the maximum speed on I-476, the Northeast Extension, to 45 m.p.h. because of deteriorating conditions. And at 6 p.m., the state imposed a general ban on that entire roadway for tractor-trailers because of expected whiteout conditions. In the New York area, the accumulation varied greatly from west to east. Heavy, wet snow fell all day in Manhattan, with more than six inches accumulating in Central Park. One man, Elmaz Qyra of Brooklyn, was killed in the park when a snow-laden tree limb fell on him just before 3:30 p.m., the authorities said.

By the end of the storm, forecasters say Central Park could receive as much as 12 inches of snow.

Beyond the city, in Orange County, N.Y., the National Weather Service said as much as 20 inches of snow could fall by Saturday. In West Milford, N.J., one foot had already fallen by 5 p.m., and the area, forecasters said, could receive another eight inches.

In New York, where emergency crews were scrambling to repair downed power lines throughout the day, about 5,400 customers were without power as of 9 p.m., a spokesman for the New York State Electric and Gas Corp. said. About 1,300 of those customers were in Orange County alone.

Meanwhile, parts of Long Island, with warm air coming off the Atlantic keeping the precipitation mainly in the form of rain, received no more than two inches of snow by 5 p.m. Totals on the South Fork might not reach two inches for the entire storm.

While delays and cancellations were light at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport felt the brunt of the weather, reporting nearly 600 cancellations. Heavy rain at Logan International Airport in Boston were causing 85 minute delays.

“This is an incredibly slow moving storm,” said Brandon Smith, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Upton, N.Y. “It’s literally going to sit over us for the next two days.”

Recent warmer weather and rain had meant that Philadelphians had finally seen the last of the old snow that fell in February. At least they know what to expect.

Captain Coalson of the Chester Township Police said his officers would be out handling accident reports on Interstate 95, and issuing citations for certain recalcitrant snow shovelers. Local laws prohibit the common practice of pushing or dumping shoveled snow in the street for passing plows to deal with; fines for violations can range from $25 to $600. “We don’t enforce it until two, three days down the road,” Captain Coalson said.

Some residents try to reserve for themselves the curbside parking spots outside their homes that they have laboriously cleared of snow by leaving folding chairs in the spots when the car is not there. “We will collect the chairs and throw them out,” Captain Coalson warned.

Staying put might be the answer, since travel seemed to be deteriorating in the Northeast, making travel difficult.

Complicating matters for Amtrak service along the busy Northeast Corridor was a fatal accident believed to be unrelated to weather. A high-speed Acela train from Boston bound for Washington struck two pedestrians on the tracks nine miles south of Philadelphia at 10:28 a.m. Thursday, said Tracy Connell, an Amtrak spokeswoman. Ms. Connell said both people died, but that she did not have any more information.

Four mainline tracks were closed while the accident was investigated, and service was not fully restored until 1 p.m.

Friday, February 19, 2010

PennDOT: Stimulus Cash Boosts Roadwork, Jobs

Philly Burbs
Projects in New Hope, the Newtown area and I-95 are receiving millions in federal cash.

KING OF PRUSSIA - Despite record snowfall this winter and plow blades wearing out, PennDOT is right on schedule with 30 projects in Southeastern Pennsylvania that are being funded with $257.7 million in federal stimulus money.

Bucks County has been awarded more than $24 million for projects and Montgomery more than $94 million.

At a press conference Thursday in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 6 Executive Lester C. Toaso said 18 of 30 projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are under way. The recovery act was signed into law a year ago.

Gov. Ed Rendell said stimulus money "works" and has put people to work.

During August, September and October, more than 5,000 people statewide were working on stimulus-funded projects, PennDOT officials said.

"Without that investment, those people likely would have been without jobs, drawing jobless benefits and helping to slow down an economy in desperate need of stimulus," Toaso said Thursday.

Of the 30 projects in District 6, four are completed and eight will start when the weather breaks, Toaso said.

"Our aim since early last year was to move AARA projects into construction as quickly as possible to help create jobs and inject those federal funds into our economy," Toaso said. "These special federal funds also helped us move important projects into construction that would not otherwise be under way at this time."

The federal windfall is earmarked for the five-county Philadelphia region that includes Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia.

Total cost of the 30 projects is $348.4 million with $91 million coming from other federal funding sources, PennDOT officials said.

One area of concern being addressed is crumbling bridges. Statewide, 133 structurally deficient bridges are being replaced. Of that number, 39 are in the five-county Philadelphia area, according to PennDOT. Of that number, 23 are in Montgomery County. None in Bucks are being repaired with stimulus money.

As outlined by PennDOT assistant press secretary Gene Blaum, stimulus projects in Bucks County are:

Newtown/Lower Makefield/ Upper Makefield: $1.3 million to improve Stoopville Road between Rosefield Road and Route 532 and between Stoopville and Lindenhurst roads. Crews are installing landscaped median islands at several locations, new traffic signals at Route 532 and Highland Road, and a new flashing warning device at Creamery Road and Linton Hill Road. The project is due to be completed in June.

Bucks state highways: $981,925 to reconstruct 247 curb ramps along eight state highways. Work was completed last month.

New Hope: $517,612 to build a pedestrian walkway. Construction begins next month. Borough officials designed the walkway to connect visitors to the business district. The path will begin at the municipal parking facility and extend to the western bank of the Delaware Canal and on to the historic New Hope-Ivyland train station. The asphalt walkway will be 6 feet wide and 1,078 feet long. The project should be complete by June.

I-95: $21.7 million to install electronic warning monitors and cameras along the interstate. The project covers 19 miles between Broad Street and I-676 in Philadelphia and between Academy Road and Route 1 in Bucks and Philadelphia. The project will pay for 17 new closed circuit television cameras, 10 message signs, 54 travel time readers and 40 incident detectors.

Stimulus funding projects in Montgomery County include:

Upper Providence/Limerick: $12.2 million to improve a 4.5 mile section of Route 422; work began in May. Crews are improving Route 422 from a half-mile east of the Route 29 (Collegeville) interchange to 1,500 feet west of the Royersford Interchange.

Upper Merion: $10.5 million to construct new ramps to connect westbound I-76 with the intersection of Henderson and South Gulph roads. Work is expected to end in June 2012.

I-476: $71.7 million to rebuild 3.2 miles of I-476 including bridges between I-76 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Mid-County Interchange in West Conshohocken and Plymouth. Work is expected to end in late 2012.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Philadelphia Airport's $45M Expansion Opens Today

Philadelphia Inquirer

A $45 million expansion to Terminal E at Philadelphia International Airport, where Southwest Airlines Co. has its gates, opens to passengers today.

Mayor Nutter will be on hand, as will officials from the airport and Southwest Airlines, for a ribbon cutting and dedication in a central rotunda of the terminal.

The improvements are part of a $300 million makeover to Terminals D and E that began several years ago, after the arrival of Southwest, the nation's largest low-fare carrier.

Southwest invigorated travel when it came here in May 2004, reducing fares on routes where it competed, particularly with US Airways Group Inc., the region's dominant airline.

With the growth of Southwest, which began with 14 flights to six cities and now operates 54 nonstops a day to 18 destinations - and more flights by discount carrier AirTran Airways - there was a pressing need to renovate Terminals D and E, airport officials said.

A fan-shaped extension at the end of Concourse E adds seven gates for aircraft, a 500-seat passenger waiting area, a mini food court with new concessions, and a 350-foot curved-glass wall.

The improvements do for Southwest, AirTran, United, Delta, Continental and Air Canada - all of which fly out of D and E - what a $139 million makeover to Terminals B and C did in 1998 for US Airways.

About a fourth of Philadelphia passengers depart and arrive in D and E.

Southwest, Philadelphia's second busiest carrier, acted as general contractor for the Terminal E face-lift, the latest phase of a multistage project.

It is the airport's largest construction project since the International Terminal opened in 2003.

In December 2008, a 204,000-square-foot "connector" building opened - wedged between Terminals D and E - with a 14-lane passenger security checkpoint, a mall with 10 shops, and a view of the airfield. (Previously there were four security lanes in D and four in E.)

This Friday, a new D-E baggage-claim building with nine carousels is scheduled to open and connect the existing bag-claim areas for Terminals D and E.

In May, an automated bag sorting system with high-technology explosives-detection machines that screen bags at a rate of 750 an hour will be completed on a floor below the D-E passenger screening. After testing, the system should be ready for use in the fall.

By the end of 2010, passenger ticket counters will be replaced in Terminals D and E, to include 23 additional counters and new escalators and stairs.

These changes mean passengers can now walk from Terminal A - where international flights come and go - all the way to Terminal E without having to go through security screening more than once.

The $300 million tab for the entire project will be paid by airport revenue bonds funded by the airlines, federal grants, and passenger facility charges, which are fees of up to $4.50 imposed on departing passengers to use on Federal Aviation Administration approved projects.

Looking to the future, the airport wants to revamp Terminal F, where nearly 400 commuter and regional jet flights depart daily. That $100 million project would link Terminal F to E so passengers would be able to walk from A to F - the full length of the airport - after going through security only once.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Little Guys Win Big

Philadelphia Daily News
Citizens group savors its rescue of Burholme Park

Burholme Estate
NOT FAR FROM the clamor of Cottman Avenue, where sandwich shops, hair salons and professional offices dot a bustling corridor, there is a wooded spot in Burholme Park with a creek running through it.

When city officials agreed to carve out some 20 acres of the lush, green park so that the nearby Fox Chase Cancer Center could expand, a group of ordinary residents took a stand. They wouldn't let the park go. Not without a fight.

Among them were a couple of retired school teachers, a onetime corner grocer and a former telephone line technician who loves to hike and cross-country ski.

They formed Save Burholme Park, but they weren't very popular. They were dubbed "tree huggers" by some and a "ragtag group" by a zoning lawyer.

No one thought they had the slightest chance against the high-powered attorneys and politicians who supported the cancer center.

Yet, last month, after losing an appeal in Commonwealth Court in December, Fox Chase announced it was dropping its efforts to build inside the park.

Jean Gavin, a retired fifth-grade teacher, and an outspoken leader of Save Burholme Park, was elated.

"We're living on seventh heaven!" Gavin said. "I didn't expect that. I thought they would fight until hell froze over.

"They have had the money to spend. We've had none. We've been fighting them only on good will and determination."

The activists had gone up against Gov. Rendell, former Mayor John Street, Mayor Nutter, Councilman Brian O'Neill and most members of the now-defunct Fairmount Park Commission who had backed the expansion plan.

But the "little guys" won.

"They bought the very best law firms. They've had the best of everything," Gavin said. "We've had one lawyer [Samuel C. Stretton] pro bono. No one would have given two cents on our winning!"

"Usually big money wins," added Frank Neumann, 94, a longtime park supporter. "But we didn't give up. We sort of had faith. But it was slim."

Burholme Park stretches over 65 acres at Cottman and Central avenues. It includes the Ryerss Mansion and Museum, a popular sledding hill, a golf range, baseball fields and a densely wooded area to the west that sharply slopes down to a stream that feeds into Tacony Creek. The park seems worlds away from the congestion of Cottman Avenue.

"It was always a refuge," said Marlene Sellers, another retired teacher in the group. "I couldn't imagine all those buildings there.

Citing cramped conditions and an explosion of new cancer patients over the years, Fox Chase, at Central and Shelmire avenues, wanted to build as many as 18 buildings in the center of the park over the next 20 years.

"Their argument was that we'd still have the mansion and the library and the sledding hill. But the whole essence of the park would have been destroyed," Sellers said. She is also secretary of Friends of Ryerss, a volunteer group that supports the mansion.

Robert Waln Ryerss, a 19th-century lawyer and philanthropist, gave most of the park to the city in his 1895 will "for the use and enjoyment of the people for ever."

The gift included the family's Victorian-era mansion, which resembles an Italian country villa. Robert's father, Joseph Ryerss, a shipping and Tioga Railroad tycoon, built it in 1859.

Now a library and museum filled with Asian art and other objects travel-loving Ryerss family members collected, the mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places. It sits high atop a gently sloping hill. From it, one can see the Center City skyline.

In March 2008, City Council gave its blessing to a deal first worked out with the Fairmount Park Commission to lease 19.4 acres of the park to the cancer center for at least 80 years. The center had first asked for nearly 39 acres.

But Gavin, Sellers and the other park lovers went to Philadelphia Orphans Court to challenge the deal.

"What disturbed me was there was a will," said Sellers. "But no one in the city, none of the politicians, not one of the institutions in power tried to protect the park.

"They were supposed to safeguard the park for the people."

She asserted that the center officials "assumed it was theirs to take. It was a kind of arrogance of power."

City officials said they were worried the cancer center would move out of the city and take an estimated 4,000 jobs with it.

And Fox Chase supporters noted that wills had been broken before. They pointed to Stephen Girard's will, which set up Girard College as a free boarding school to "poor white orphan males."

Fighting City Hall

The "ragtag" group, many of them retired, began their fight for the park at a community meeting at the Fox Chase Elementary School not long after the center announced it needed to expand into the park in late 2004.

That first meeting was pretty much evenly divided between neighborhood residents who agreed with the expansion and those opposed.

But at later meetings, such as those of the Fox Chase Homeowners Association, Jean Gavin said she was often told to "shut up." But she was determined to be heard.

A turning point came when Gavin got a telephone call from Mary Tracy, executive director of SCRUB, the Public Voice for Public Space, who had earlier helped Gavin remove illegal billboards from the Rhawn Street Bridge. Tracy had heard about the plans to build inside the park.

Gavin asked Tracy, "Can you help us find a lawyer?"

Tracy brought Stretton to Gavin's home on Rhawn near Verree, and soon the other activists in Save Burholme Park began meeting there.

When they knocked on doors to get petitions signed, they often were told they were wasting their time.

"It's a done deal, it's a done deal," or "You can't fight City Hall," Denise Kirk, who lives across the street from the cancer center, said people told the group.

Besides Gavin, Neumann, Kirk and Sellers, the group's core leaders included Fred Maurer, a retired telephone technician and hiker and Tim Kearney, a candidate for state representative in the 172nd District.

The activists said some neighbors accused them of being against cancer research, or that they didn't care about people who needed jobs at the center.

"We were not against the cancer center, we were for the park," Sellers insisted.

"I have cancer myself," said Neumann, who played in the park back in the 1920s.

'Old-fashioned activism'

The activists did more than gather petitions and knock on doors.

Stretton, the attorney, said the group members "got materials for me, they lined up witnesses and gave me a lot of history about the park and went back to old books and gave me old sources and opinions."

He especially credited Tracy, of SCRUB, and Maurer and Gavin of the park group.

Maurer, 74, spent hours researching the case in the Jenkins Law Library in Center City.

"They are very dedicated people, some of them living on fixed retirement incomes, and they helped me immensely," Stretton said. "They stood up to correct something that they thought would be a detriment to the community if the park was taken."

"It's an old-fashioned citizen activism and it's dying away. It's dying away," Stretton said.

Stretton first won in Philadelphia Orphans Court in December 2008 when Judge John W. Herron ruled in a 61-page finding that the state's "public trust doctrine protects every square foot" of the park.

Fox Chase had hired lawyers from two of the city's most powerful law firms.

First, Amy B. Ginensky and a team of lawyers from Pepper Hamilton represented the center in Orphans Court.

When the center appealed to Commonwealth Court in 2009, it hired James Gardner Colins, of Cozen O'Connor, a former president judge of Commonwealth Court, to plead its case before that very same court.

Fox Chase will consider its options for expansion over the next few months, said Tim Spreitzer, the center's spokesman. Officials will decide whether to build taller on top of existing buildings or whether to "split the campus," by having its hospital and research facilities at different locations.

The center needs to expand because "cancer is expected to surpass heart disease as the number one cause of death by 2011," he said.

But one thing is for sure, according to Spreitzer:

"The center is absolutely committed to Northeast Philadelphia on a long-term basis."

Murtha's Widow Urged to Run for Husband's Seat

USA Today

Joyce Murtha for Congress?

The Pennsylvania papers are reporting that the widow of Rep. John Murtha is being urged to run in the May special election to fill the remainder of her husband's term. The 77-year-old Democrat died a week ago of complications from gall bladder surgery.

Murtha spokesman Matthew Mazonkey told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "While people have been mindful that this is a difficult time for the family, many have called to suggest Joyce as the perfect person to hold her husband's seat."

One possible candidate, former state treasurer Barbara Hafer, said she would support Murtha's widow.

"She would be a tremendous choice," Hafer told the Tribune-Review. "She is a wonderful woman, an excellent speaker. If that is what she wants to do, I would heartily concur."

Murtha will be laid to rest tomorrow at Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown, Pa. Former president Bill Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be among those attending the funeral services, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today. The White House will be represented by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

About 1,200 mourners paid their respects Sunday at a funeral home in Westmont, Pa., the Post-Gazette reported. Among them were Ohio Democratic Reps. Zack Space and Charlie Wilson, and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

Rendell -- who also served two terms as mayor of Philadelphia -- called Murtha "the best ally I ever had" in Washington.

"No one is irreplaceable, but he was the most impactful political figure in Pennsylvania for the last 50 years," Rendell told the Post-Gazette.

The Post-Gazette said Joyce Murtha "had no comment on politics Sunday as she concentrated on greeting the hundreds paying their respects to her husband."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Another Winter Storm Hits Philly


PHILADELPHIA (AP) ― Air travelers are being forced to make other plans with nearly all flights canceled at Philadelphia International Airport due to snow and ice.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Philadelphia and its suburbs for all day Wednesday, as another 10 inches or more of blowing snow is possible.

Some detoured air travelers are flocking to Amtrak trains at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.

Forty-year-old New Hampshire resident Scott Collins had been in the city for a sales meeting.

His flight back to Manchester on Wednesday night was canceled, so he was waiting for a train to Boston instead. He says he'll have to rent a car once he gets there and drive home.

Virtually all flights at the airport have been canceled through Thursday morning.