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      Metro Facts Machine
    Send your questions.

    On Absentee Ballots,
    D.C. Height Restrictions
    And Metro's Ups and Downs

    Updated Wednesday Oct. 13, 1999

    Welcome to washingtonpost.com's Metro Facts Machine, a human search engine delivering the information you want about the Washington region. Have a question about something in the news? Just ask us at facts@washingtonpost.com.

    Q: The third escalator at Dupont South [Metrorail station] has worked one week in more than a year. Metro keeps working on it, posting signs saying work will be done and then nothing ever happens. It's like this elsewhere, with broken escalators strewn across the Metro system. In Bethesda, they have been working to repair one escalator for more than a month. How can they get away with this?
    Dan G.

    A: The MFM called Paul Gillum, who heads up Metro's 55-member escalator/elevator maintenance crew. He told us that on any given day, about 9 percent of the 547 Metro station escalators are out of service. Some are awaiting parts, some have malfunctioned and some – the ones 20 years or older – are being replaced under Metro's capital improvement program.

    Replacement typically takes about three months, but complications have stretched it to nearly a year at one of the three Dupont Circle escalators, Gillum said. That escalator went back in service a few weeks ago, about the same time another one at the station malfunctioned because of a twisted shaft. Gillum says that the part is en route and that the escalator should be working again in a few weeks.

    The Bethesda escalator has been down since August, he said, also the victim of a bad part. Metro often has to await parts from overseas. Not that it's an excuse, but Metro officials point out that they operate more escalators than any single agency in the world.

    Last December, The Post reported on the rail line's troubled escalator system.

    Q: I am a student at Virginia Tech and I live, when at home, in Fairfax County. How can I obtain an absentee ballot for local and national elections?
    Josh S.

    A: An easy one! Fairfax County gives you several options: You can request a ballot by phone, by fax or by e-mail. All the details, and the deadlines, are online at www.co.fairfax.va.us/eb/absentee.htm.

    Residents of other Virginia counties looking for absentee ballots can either contact their local elections office or print an ballot application at the Web site of the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia.

    Q: What is the rule/law on height restrictions on buildings in Washington, D.C., and what is the history behind it?
    Bryan M.

    In 1899, Congress first adopted a Heights of Building Act, which stipulated no private edifice in the District could be higher than the Capitol or other notable government structures. The act was amended in 1910 to impose a height restriction of 160 feet along parts of Pennsylvania Avenue and 130 feet throughout the rest of the District. Exceptions include spires, towers, domes and other such aesthetic additions.

    Architect Roger Lewis, a frequent contributor to The Post, explained the history in a 1994 opinion piece.

    Q: I would like to know where to find restaurants and other businesses for sale in the Maryland and Washington, D.C., metro area.
    Vincent E.

    A: It's surprising that in the Internet age there's no organization or Web site that does something as simple as list businesses for sale. But, as far as the MFM can tell, there isn't.

    Bill Webb, of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, says lawyers or commercial real estate brokers generally are the first stops for folks looking for restaurant or business opportunities. MFM also called the Restaurant Association of Metro Washington and heard basically the same thing.

    One final, if self-serving suggestion: Washington Business, which runs each Monday in The Post, includes a business real estate directory with ads from prospective sellers.

    Q: Is there a curfew for airplane takeoffs and landings at Ronald Reagan National Airport?
    Gary S.

    A: "A misconception," says Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority. In 1982, airport officials imposed decibel limits for flights from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. At the time, those regulations amounted to a ban because no planes could meet the standards: 72 decibels for takeoffs or 85 for landings. (Eighty-five decibels is equivalent to noise levels along a busy highway.) Some early violators were fined.

    Planes have gotten quieter, so the overnight activity has resumed. By 1987, as many as two dozen flights were scheduled out of National each day from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Hamilton says that about a dozen leave or arrive during the overnight hours these days. She also credits regulations that prohibit nonstop flights of more than 1,250 miles from the airport for keeping the number low.

    Send your questions.


    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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