THE REGION

Powder Found in Letter at Israeli Embassy

More than 50 employees were holed up in the Israeli Embassy in Northwest Washington for several hours last night while authorities tested a powdery white substance found inside a letter, federal authorities said. They said they believed the substance was harmless but were awaiting lab results today.

The letter, which warned of anthrax and contained rambling anti-Semitic passages, was traced to an inmate in North Carolina who has a history of mental illness, federal officials said. An embassy employee opened the letter about 5 p.m., law enforcement officials said.

Two employees and four D.C. firefighters were decontaminated at the embassy. Shortly before 10 p.m., the employees were allowed to go home, authorities said.

Faulty Cable Found on Blue, Orange Lines

Metro engineers identified the faulty cable that caused a vital safety system to fail last week in the tunnel between the Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn stations, causing disruptions for 10 days on the Blue and Orange lines.

Crews will work over the weekend to replace the cable, and regular service should be restored on the two subway lines by Monday morning, said Steven A. Feil, chief operating officer for rail.

Part of Wisconsin Ave. NW to Close Tonight

A portion of Wisconsin Avenue NW will be closed tonight for repaving as part of completion of the Georgetown construction project, District transportation officials said. Traffic will be detoured between P and R streets NW from 9 p.m. until about noon tomorrow. Parking will be restricted and towing will be enforced, officials said.

Absentee Voting Open Today for Iranians

Iranians living in the Washington area can cast absentee ballots today in Iran's national presidential elections by visiting one of four polling stations.

Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Iranian Interests Section, 2209 Wisconsin Ave. NW; the Holiday Inn Select, 2004 Greenspring Dr., Timonium, Md.; Manassas Mosque, 12950 Center Entrance Ct., Manassas; and the Islamic Education Center, 7917 Montrose Rd., Potomac.

The voting is open to Iranians who are at least 16 years old, including U.S. citizens. Details are available at the Iranian government Web site, www.election1384.com.

VIRGINIA

$9.4 Billion Transportation Plan Approved

The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved a $9.4 billion, six-year program yesterday that includes money for a Metrorail line to Dulles International Airport and a long-awaited carpool lane extension through the Springfield Interchange.

More than half -- 57 percent -- of the state's $7 billion assigned to road projects will go toward maintenance. The budget fully funds an $85 million connection in Springfield and provides money for preliminary work on widening Interstate 66 from Route 29 to Sudley Road and widening Route 7 in Fairfax County.

The plan includes $900 million for the Metro extension. That figure includes an anticipated $500 million from the federal government. There is also money for rail cars and buses.

Fairfax Electoral Board Names Registrar

The Fairfax County Electoral Board yesterday appointed the Albemarle County registrar to take over managing elections in Virginia's largest county.

Jacquelynne Harris replaces Diane McIntyre, who was fired in February in a 2-1 vote of the electoral board. Her firing capped months of criticism from her staff and the board's Democrats that she did not adequately prepare for the presidential election.

MARYLAND

State's Removal From Trade Pact Sought

The General Assembly's two top Democratic leaders asked Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday to comply with a law passed this year and remove Maryland from the list of states that have signed on to the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Ehrlich (R) had listed Maryland as a signatory to the proposed agreement at the request of Bush administration trade officials, who are trying to get the pact approved by Congress.

In a letter, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Calvert) noted that the legislature overrode his vetoes of two bills requiring that Maryland be removed from the agreement and that the bills are now law.

The lawmakers also criticized Ehrlich for withholding funding for initiatives that the General Assembly added to his budget this year.

Administration officials have indicated that Ehrlich will not spend money on several of those initiatives, including offices that enforce wage laws and a popular education grant program.

Poisoning From Idling Car Called Accident

A car idling in the garage of a Clarksburg townhouse that poisoned four family members with carbon monoxide Wednesday night was accidentally left running, Montgomery County police said yesterday.

A 32-year-old woman and her two children -- ages 1 and 4 -- were released yesterday from hospitals. The woman's mother-in-law, whose age police did not know yesterday, remained hospitalized and is expected to survive, police said. Their names were not released.

The woman got distracted after arriving home and left the car running, police said. A neighbor's carbon monoxide monitor sounded at 7:45 that evening. While the neighbor was searching for the source, the woman's husband came home to find his family unconscious, police said. The husband and neighbor, whose names were not released, rushed the victims out of the house.

Body Found on Red Line in Montgomery

Maintenance workers found the body of a man yesterday morning on the Metro tracks between the Silver Spring and Forest Glen stations on the Red Line, Montgomery County police said.

Police said they believe he was struck by a southbound train either late Wednesday night or early yesterday morning.

Police asked for the public's help in identifying the man. He was described as a black male of average build, wearing a gray Adidas running jacket, an olive green T-shirt, white socks, red Air Jordan nylon basketball shorts, black and white Nike Air Max Tailwind athletic shoes and a red baseball cap with no markings. Anyone with information can call 240-773-5070.

"You need to invest in your bus service. You have a case of a rubber band stretched too far and about to snap in some cases."

-- Michael Scanlon of San Mateo County, Calif., who led a panel of bus experts assessing the Metrobus system. -- A1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Allan Lengel, Steven Ginsberg, Susan Kinzie, Lyndsey Layton, Caryle Murphy, Lisa Rein, David Snyder, John Wagner and Ovetta Wiggins and the Associated Press.