- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Four years behind schedule, more than double the original cost, the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center is set to open on Dec. 2.

It is a breathtaking vision of marble and glass, eye-catching exhibits, fountains, lanterns, seat-walls and woodwork. It fills 580,000 square feet and its price tag is astronomical - $621 million. Its original price tag was $265 million. All that money for what was supposed to be used as a holding zone for visitors waiting to tour the Capitol.

“Security” concerns led to the cost overruns, officials said. Sure.

Of course, upgrades were needed to modernize the aging visitors center, ensure handicap accessibility and accommodate an increase in visitors - tripling from 1 million in 1970 to nearly 3 million today. But are two, 450-seat theaters really necessary? Or a 500-seat eatery?

The acting Architect of the Capitol, Stephen Ayers, defended the treasure, saying: “I don’t think it’s extravagant.” Yet, the new structure is so over-the-top, NBC’s Nightly News deemed it a “Fleecing of America” back in 2006 even before the final costs were tallied. Wisconsin Democratic Rep. David Obey said: “Pitiful oversight, exploding costs and embarrassing results.”

Aside from a good meal and rain cover, what more does the public require while waiting in line? And what could this building possibly provide that would justify its price tag? Sure the pretty, shiny bobbles such as a 3-D replica of the Capitol are intended to “improve the learning experience” of visitors. Isn’t that why Washington has the Smithsonian Institution and the National Archives? The attraction is the Capitol itself - not a Disneyland-style detour on their way up the ramp.

While it’s still among the cheapest attractions in the nation’s capital, being free, the improved Capitol Visitors Center is not the best use of taxpayer money.

Actually, the Capitol Visitors Center is a handy symbol of why conservatives turned on the once Republican-led Congress - a pointless project on auto-pilot, hoovering up tax-dollars, without any protest from the solons who are supposed to be guarding the people’s purse.

Let’s hope this is the last Republican boondoggle - or the GOP will be out of power for a long time.

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