Capitol Visitor Center Debut Again Delayed

By Michael E. Ruane and Joe Stephens
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 9, 2007

When it's finished, the new Capitol Visitor Center will have nearly five acres of Pennsylvania sandstone on the walls, pink Tennessee marble on the floors and gray Virginia granite on the facade out front.

There will be handrails of cast bronze, wood paneling of rich, dark cherry and ceilings of fine plaster.

There will be skylights, fountains, granite columns, spiral staircases and a stone niche for the funeral platform that bore the body of Abraham Lincoln.

It will be grand, its creators say.

When it's finished.

Last month, the center's probable opening, already three years delayed, was pushed back again -- to summer 2008. And last week, a project official told Congress the schedule was undergoing further evaluation.

"Sadly," Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) said, "unless they get their act together, [I] expect that we will hear about yet another delay."

Decades in the making, the three-level, underground complex, adjacent to the Capitol's east front, will be the biggest expansion in the Capitol's history. It will also be one of the most striking, and controversial, tourist attractions in the country and much more than just a visitor center.

It probably will wind up costing about $600 million, government auditors believe -- more than double the initial $265 million budget projection from 1999 and just shy of the cost of Washington's new $611 million baseball stadium. Post-Sept. 11, 2001, security worries, as well as changes in design and content, have driven up the cost.

It will also be famous, at least at first, for the chronic delays that pushed its debut from 2005 to 2006 to 2007 to 2008, as the added work and hundreds of changes slowed the pace and clogged construction.

"A monument to government inefficiency, ineptitude and excessiveness," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a longtime critic.

"I've never seen a bigger boondoggle in my life," said Wasserman-Schultz, who chaired a House subcommittee hearing on the center last month. "It's like they're playing with Monopoly money."

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The opening of the Capitol Visitor Center has been pushed back to summer 2008. Here is how the opening dates have evolved over the years.
Delayed Opening
SOURCES: Architect of the Capitol, U.S. Government Accountability Office | The Washington Post
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