Construction costs double for Capitol Visitor Center

For the second time in two years, estimated construction costs for the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington have increased, almost doubling original estimates to nearly $558.6 million.

When the project’s ceremonial groundbreaking occurred in June 2000, construction costs were expected to total $265 million, some of which would come from private funding. During the past four years, however, changes in plans and security additions have made the price skyrocket – and have pushed back the completion date.

The Government Accountability Office told the House Appropriations Committee the project would not be completed until at least the end of 2006. Originally, the project was supposed to be finished by the end of 2005.

Continuing changes to the project’s plans are partially to blame for the delays and the cost increases. After September 11, Congress added $38.5 million to the project for security improvements and requested a $10 million tunnel between the Capitol and the Library of Congress. An additional $70 million was added so that House and Senate office spaces near the center could be expanded, and another $48 million was set aside for “site conditions.”

Apparently protecting the historic landscaping, which was designed in 1874 by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park, is going to cost the government a few million extra. Landscapers on the project are being paid $2 million just to make sure historic trees at the site are not damaged.

To protect the landscaping, most of the visitor center will be underground, with 580,000 square feet of exhibits, theaters, food courts and office space. This is the first time since the 1850s that the Capitol complex has undergone such a large construction project.

Work is currently about halfway done. Crews have finished laying the foundations and the reinforced steel outer wall. Work on the interior is set to begin sometime in the next two months.