The Metrorail system has agreed to re-examine its access for handicapped patrons, an agreement that could lead to the end of a six-year-old lawsuit that has already forced the system to install $60 million worth of elevators in subway stations.
Under the terms of a consent order signed by U.S. District Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer Metro and handicapped patrons will form a "solutions committee" to spend the next 45 days determining if there are ways for making the system more accessible for handicapped customers without installing more elevators.
The committee will report to Judge Oberdorfer within 90 days the results of its study and whether or not it has agreed on what can be done.
Neither side has dropped its legal arguments. The sides merely agreed to strive for a settlement out of court.
Attorneys familiar with the case said it does not affect earlier rulings that forced Metro to provide at least one elevator for the handicapped at each station. However, since that initial order some handicapped groups have complained that the placement of the elevators penalized the handicapped by making them move significantly farther than able-bodied persons to reach the trains.
Metro attorneys argued that the system was not required to add more elevators, and the plaintiffs said more elevators were required under Federal law so it would be more equally accessible for the handicapped.
The lack of elevators at the Gallery Place station kept that platform closed altogether for several months until the General Services Administration gave Metro a temporary waiver of legal requirmements concerning the need for an eleveator there. An elevator has since been installed there.
U.S. District Judge William B. Jones ruled more than five years ago that the Archiectural Barriers Act required that the system be made accessible to the handicapped by installing elevators. The ruling added $60 million to what was then a $4.6 billion system.
Both sides have agreed to report to GSA about their negotiations to see if the federal government has any objections to their attempts to settle the case.