Here's what $621 million gets you

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A new Capitol Visitor Center.

The center opened for media tours today, giving reporters and photographers their first chance to see the space that will soon greet every visitor to the Capitol. The space is located underground on the east front of the Capitol, but soaring skylights give you close up views of the Capitol dome, making you hardly feel like you’re in a basement or bunker.

The CVC, which opens to the public Dec. 2, has been decades in the making. Like any government project, it took years to get underway, with construction starting six years ago. The initial budget was about $221 million, but multiple factors drove up the cost, including post-Sept. 11 security improvements. Reporters today questioned whether the public would find the cost of the marble and sandstone structure excessive.

“I don’t think it’s extravagant, and as you walk through, I don’t think anyone would,” said Acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers.

Tickets aren’t needed to see the Capitol Visitor Center, though they will still be needed to tour the Capitol. Tickets will be available at the center, online or by phone for those with no Internet access. The center’s Web site, www.visitthecapitol.gov, will go live Friday morning.

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