THE REGION

Metro to Pay More for Escalator Canopies

Metro's board of directors gave tentative approval yesterday to a nearly 70 percent price increase for the stylish canopies that will be installed above Metro entrances to protect escalators from rain and snow.

Many of the board members were surprised by an administrative resolution from Metro's management that raised the expected cost from $450,000 to $761,000 for each stainless steel canopy. To stay within the project's budget, Metro officials said they will reduce the number of canopies from about 50 to 30 across the region.

"I find this rather frustrating," said Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman, adding that the higher price would result in a more attractive design. "People wanted something that is more of a statement."

The price increase is connected to the revised design Metro approved after public input, said D.C. board member Gladys Mack.

"The result was totally justified," Mack said. "But we didn't know we would have 19 fewer canopies."

Metro officials said the cost went up along with the price of steel over the past few years. Four canopies have been installed at stations, including L'Enfant Plaza and Brookland-CUA.

THE DISTRICT

D.C. Board Approves Two Charter Schools

The D.C. Board of Education gave permission Wednesday night for two charter schools to open in the District.

St. Coletta of Greater Washington will open a charter school in fall 2006 to serve students with mental retardation, autism and multiple disabilities.

The school will have the capacity to enroll more than 200 children. Ground has been broken for the $31 million facility in Southeast Washington on Capitol Hill.

St. Coletta of Greater Washington is a nonsectarian, nonprofit organization that owns and operates the St. Coletta Private School in Arlington County and the St. Coletta Adult Day Support Program, along with other training and therapeutic ventures.

City Lights, a special education school operating in Northeast Washington, was also granted permission to become a charter school.

Camera Tickets Now Can Be Paid Online

It won't take the sting out of getting a ticket, but if you're caught by one of the District's red light or speed cameras, at least you can save the cost of a stamp.

The D.C. police department said it is now letting drivers pay those tickets online. They can also see a color photo that led to the ticket.

Both Web sites are password-protected, and the tickets are now coming with passwords.

D.C. police said drivers can also continue to mail a check, pay at the Department of Motor Vehicles or contest the ticket. To view photographs, drivers can go to www.public.cite-web.com. Tickets can be paid at www.dmv.dc.gov.

MARYLAND

State Agency Inflates Success, Audit Finds

Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development has been overstating the benefits of its programs in order to justify budget requests, a legislative audit released yesterday said.

The audit, conducted at the request of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, found that the department had inflated the number of jobs created with its assistance and pumped up figures showing the estimated value of export sales from Maryland companies that had received state aid.

For instance, while the department predicted its programs would create 8,345 jobs, auditors found that 839 of those jobs had been double counted, 1,259 already existed and 500 were counted even though the company in question never accepted state aid.

The department's response to the audit said officials there accepted the findings and promised that efforts were underway to ensure that "data gathering and reporting [become] more cost effective, accurate, and reliable."

Md. Terror Response for Disabled Studied

Maryland terrorism response planners are struggling with mandates to include the disabled in their preparations for disaster without violating medical privacy laws.

In a regional meeting yesterday in Hagerstown, emergency management officials, people with disabilities and service providers brainstormed ways to ensure that this segment of the population is not left behind.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "it has become apparent that little preparation had been focused on the special needs of individuals with a wide variety of disabilities," said the state Department of Disabilities, which organized the meeting and three others across the state.

The first was Tuesday in Wye Mills; the others are Nov. 12 in La Plata and Nov. 22 in Columbia.

The issues that emerged during yesterday's discussion included problems with communication, transportation and identification of special-needs individuals. An overriding concern was the need to avoid violating medical privacy laws.

Bay Bridge Panel Describes Fact-Finding

The head of a committee investigating what went wrong with resurfacing work on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge said his task force hasn't drawn any conclusions yet. But Thomas Deen said he is confident that the project's engineers and consultants are answering questions frankly and openly.

Deen spoke to reporters at a news conference at the Maryland Department of Transportation headquarters in Hanover. He called the two days of fact-finding meetings an "intense examination."

"They were helpful in giving us everything from their side," Deen said of engineers for the bridge contractor, Maine-based Cianbro Corp., and consultants for O'Connell & Lawrence. "It wasn't very different from what we heard from the agency's side."

A preliminary report on the cracked concrete decking on the westbound span found that it will cost more than $7 million to repair the road surface.

Damaged portions of the old bridge decking were not adequately removed before paving began, according to a report presented to state lawmakers two weeks ago.

Construction inspectors noticed isolated cracking in the deck 14 months ago. By spring, there was extensive cracking in the center and left lanes of the bridge.

Deen said resurfacing the bridge is an unusual and complicated process because crews have to work in all conditions and seasons. The group will meet again Nov. 15 and 16.

"How are we supposed to do the hokey-pokey if we can't turn ourselves around?"

-- Slogan printed on a T-shirt made by a Loudoun County

high school student protesting restrictive rules

for dancing at school functions. -- Page A1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Valerie Strauss and Matthew Mosk and the Associated Press.