Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Capitol Visitor Center

The Washington Post reports on the construction of the Capitol Visitor Center:

[The Capitol Visitor Center] began as a $71 million anteroom and rest stop for visitors. It has turned into an approximately $550 million extension of the U.S. Capitol that looks like an underground football stadium.

The project is so plagued by delays, a ballooning budget and growing scope that the Senate appropriations subcommittee took the unusual step in the spring of requiring monthly reports and hearings to try to rein it in.

In November, in the last hearing of 2005, the monthly report estimated that workers would have to labor nine days a week for the next 10 months to stick to the project's proposed timeline. It is the third time in as many years that the cost of the project has escalated and its opening been pushed back.

The various rooms, museums, and other facilities have drawn criticism:

The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste wrote a report last year that denounced these Congressional additions and called them "rooms for parties and receptions; and possibly the creation of more hideaways and small private offices that members can go to when they want to escape their regular office."

When ground was broken for the project in 2002, the cost estimate was $373.5 million, and the center was supposed to open in January of last year. The idea was to give visitors someplace to wait for tours, rather than standing in lines across the street in all kinds of weather.

I should point out that at least in this case, as opposed to the DC baseball stadium, the cost increase has been due to added facilities and functions, not merely "enhanced architecture". Some of the expansions were required for security, but this set is somewhat strange:
There is a 450-seat auditorium that can accommodate an emergency legislative session. There is a high-tech hearing room, office space and meeting rooms, which added about $88 million, Allard said. The space that resulted from all the add-ons is almost large enough to move the entire Congress and its operations underground.
Congress should have a backup location, but should it really be under the current capitol? What kind of event would render the capitol unusable above ground without threatening the safety and security of its underground sections?

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