THE REGION

Metro Ceiling Collapse Blamed on Anchors

Plastic anchors used to fasten a large chunk of ceiling at the Farragut North Metro station appeared to have failed Wednesday when a section came crashing down in the mezzanine area of the station, Metro officials said yesterday.

"The anchors let go from where they were placed," James Gallagher, Metro's deputy general manager for operations, told Metro directors. "We're still investigating the cause, and I can't tell you exactly how this happened. . . . We'll get to the bottom of it."

The section of ceiling, measuring about 24 feet by 30 feet, was in the passageway between the fare gates and the escalators leading to the entrance at L Street and Connecticut Avenue NW. The entrance is on Connecticut Avenue and below the Washington Square complex of shops, restaurants and offices.

No one was injured when the ceiling fell shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Activists Fan Out to Push Metro Funding

Sierra Club members handed out fliers at 14 Metro stations yesterday, urging subway and bus riders to lobby local officials to pay $1.5 billion to Metro in the next six years. The transit system says it needs the money to maintain equipment, tunnels and stations and buy new rail cars and buses to accommodate ridership growth.

The District, Maryland and Virginia have not agreed to provide the money that Metro Chief Executive Richard A. White says is needed to avoid a Metro "death spiral."

Metro is the only major transit system in the country without a dedicated source of funding, such as a portion of a gas tax. Instead, the system depends on capital grants from the federal government and annual subsidies from local jurisdictions.

"Some of our regional officials are always ready to seek funding for highway projects," said Cheryl Cort of the Washington Regional Network for Livable Communities.

"They found $2.7 billion for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, $800 million for the Springfield interchange and are proposing $3 billion for the intercounty connector. Why can't they find the money when it's needed to fix Metro?"

Track Work to Disrupt Orange Line Travel

Metro riders on the Orange Line should expect 10- to 15-minute delays this weekend because of track work, transit officials said.

Work on the segment between Vienna/Fairfax-GMU and West Falls Church-VT/UVA is expected to begin at 10 p.m. today and finish at 3 a.m. Sunday.

Trains will operate on a single track along the affected stretch.

For more information about Metrorail or Metrobus, call 202-637-7000, TTY at 202-638-3780 or visit Metro's Web site at www.metroopensdoors.com.

THE DISTRICT

House Backs Extending Tuition Assistance

The House of Representatives approved legislation late Wednesday extending for five years the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program, which permits District high school graduates to attend participating colleges and universities across the country at reduced rates.

The measure was passed by voice vote and goes to the Senate. The legislation was co-sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). The program is set to expire in September 2005.

The program provides up to $10,000 a year per student to cover the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition at participating public colleges and universities.

The program also provides up to $2,500 a year for students at private colleges and universities in the Washington area and for students attending historically black colleges and universities.

VIRGINIA

I-66 Widening in Pr. William Advances

Virginia transportation officials announced a contract to widen 3.8 miles of Interstate 66 in Prince William County. Between Sudley Road and Route 234, the road will double to four lanes in each direction.

The Virginia Department of Transportation had wanted to extend the project 1.6 miles and widen the road to the Route 29 interchange in Gainesville. But the state's budget woes forced the project to be scaled back.

Road work begins next month and should be done in October 2006, according to VDOT. Transportation officials promised no lane closures during rush hours or when concerts are scheduled at the Nissan Pavilion.

MARYLAND

Priest's Assailant Guilty on Gun Crimes

A Baltimore man accused of shooting a Roman Catholic priest he claimed had abused him years earlier pleaded guilty to three gun charges yesterday and was sentenced to 18 months' time served.

Dontee Stokes, 28, was acquitted of attempted murder in the case in December 2002. He was convicted on the gun charges, but they were later overturned by Maryland's Court of Appeals, which said jury deliberations had been flawed. The court ordered Stokes be tried on those charges again.

Stokes shot and wounded the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell on a street outside the priest's home in 2002.

At his trial, Stokes testified that he shot his former mentor because the priest would not apologize for sexually abusing him more than a decade earlier. Blackwell faces trial next month on sexual abuse charges; he has pleaded not guilty.

State Holds On to Top AAA Bond Rating

Maryland retained its much-touted AAA bond rating in reviews released yesterday, despite a looming budget shortfall that the state budget secretary estimates will top $800 million.

Maryland is one of only seven states to receive the top classification from the three major rating agencies. The designation is crucial for the state to keep low interest rates when it borrows money by selling millions of dollars' worth of bonds.

The next sale, of $400 million worth of bonds, is set for Wednesday.

State officials made their case to representatives from the Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch rating houses in meetings in Baltimore in mid-June, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said. "I came away feeling they understood what we're trying to accomplish, that we're trying to return a sense of fiscal responsibility to the state," Ehrlich said.

"The public was not timely informed about this problem. For me as chairman, that's completely unacceptable."

-- WASA board Chairman Glenn S. Gerstell, reacting to a report on how the utility responded to lead contamination of the drinking water. -- Page A1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Spencer S. Hsu, Lyndsey Layton and Eric Rich and the Associated Press.