- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2000

District of Columbia firefighters still cannot communicate with Metro workers during emergencies and might not be able to until next spring because the above-ground portion of a $2 million radio system has not been completed, according to a Metro official.

The radio system, which Metro and the fire department agreed in June to construct, should have been in operation this month as recommended by an evaluation of missteps in a subway tunnel fire in April, Metro safety chief Fred Goodine said yesterday.

Battalion Chief Geoffrey Grambo, a fire department spokesman, said blame for the delay in the radio system's completion lies with a wireless communications company whose frequencies interfere with the system's signals.

"We don't want to get into a stone-throwing contest, but the problem is Nextel," Chief Grambo said. "The agreement was that we would work together to solve the problem, but we have not solved the problem."

Nextel's signal interfered with the system's signal when Motorola, the fire department's contractor, tested the system this summer, Chief Grambo said.

Audrey Schaefer, a spokeswoman for Nextel Communications, said the Federal Communication Commission has granted her company a certain number of radio frequencies for use.

"We go by all FCC guidelines," Mrs. Schaefer said, adding that Nextel would be willing to discuss the matter with the fire department.

Mr. Goodine said the fire department has had plenty of time to correct the problem.

"We're working the underground part… . We're ready yesterday," Mr. Goodine said. "We're already supposed to be communicating."

"At this point, I can't see it being completed till May 2001," he added.

Meanwhile, Metro's board approved opening the Green Line extension to Branch Avenue on Jan. 13, two months ahead of schedule and in time for inaugural events.

General Manager Richard A. White also told the board that passengers are paying 81 percent of the cost for subway rides.

Mr. White told the board in earlier committee meetings, however, that the growth in ridership on the subway system is causing added strains on the system.

Presenting the specifics of a $9.8 billion 25-year plan for Infrastructure and Renewal Programs facility and equipment needs, Mr. White and other staff members said more money would be needed to continue its success.

Specifically, Dave Couch, director of the office of capital improvement, said Metro expects to spend $70 million to $80 million on repairs to tunnels that have suffered structural integrity damage due to water seepage.

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