Kingston, Moran Split Over Tunnel

Posted September 9, 2003 at 6:24pm

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) wanted to bring a unified message to negotiations with the Senate over funding for the Capitol Visitor Center: Drop the tunnel to the Library of Congress.

But while Kingston, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, and ranking member Jim Moran (D-Va.) have stood together for months on CVC issues, the two now disagree over the fate of the LOC tunnel, a $12 million item that Kingston would like to eliminate to save costs.

“It’s a disaster waiting to be dug,” Kingston said, referring to potential logistical difficulties. Construction crews would have to navigate around significant infrastructure — including Amtrak tunnels and utility — already under First Street between the Capitol and the Library complex.

But after the two spoke with one voice at committee meetings and elsewhere about the need to cut costs for the $373.5 million CVC construction, Moran indicated last week that he wants the cuts to come from somewhere besides the LOC tunnel.

“We shouldn’t cut the funding for the tunnel,” Moran said through a spokesman. “I don’t support that” regardless of whether there’s a $47.8 million overrun. He asserted there are other places where savings could be found.

The Capitol Preservation Commission, which oversees the project, approved the tunnel as part of the CVC design, and $10 million has been budgeted for its construction. But its detractors, including Kingston, point out that it is not even a straight shot across First Street and there is already a tunnel from the Cannon House Office Building to the LOC’s Madison Building.

Even if Kingston convinces the rest of his subcommittee to cut the tunnel — not altogether unlikely given that Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), epitomizing most attitudes on the panel, said at a spring markup that “most Members don’t know where the Library is” — he would still face formidable opposition in Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), a strong supporter of the CVC project in general and the tunnel in particular.

“It will be an issue for the conference,” Senate Appropriations spokesman Tim Boulay said. “Obviously, we’re going to support the Senate version.”

The Senate included $47.8 million for the CVC in its version of the fiscal 2004 legislative branch appropriations bill. That was the figure the General Accounting Office said would be needed to finish the project, on top of the $308.5 million already allocated.

House appropriators didn’t include any additional funds for the CVC in their the bill, but Kingston said last week the subcommittee would be willing to “pick up the difference” on the cost overruns. He had previously expressed great skepticism about doing so.

At a hearing Kingston held specifically on the CVC in July, the subcommittee asked Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman which items could be cut at this point and at what cost savings. Hantman listed the tunnel as one of the most efficacious big-ticket items to cut because it has yet to be excavated. Other items Kingston and members of his subcommittee considered for the chopping block — including the 450-seat auditorium — would have yielded far less cost savings (in both percentage and real dollar terms) because construction had already begun.

Hantman told the subcommittee in July that cutting the LOC tunnel would yield a cost savings of about $8 million.

But the price tag for the tunnel is now $12 million. CVC spokesman Tom Fontana said the increase is due to anticipated risks. “You don’t know them until you dig,” he said.

“Amtrak does not know where its own tunnels are,” Kingston said last week, explaining that the LOC tunnel was designed to go between the train tunnel and street level.

Amtrak historian Cliff Black said the tunnels were built almost 100 years ago and predate Amtrak by several decades.

“The construction of the tunnel dates back to 1908, when Union Station was built,” Black said.

Although accurate records don’t exist as to the exact location of the Amtrak tunnel, planners do know it is less than 20 feet under the street, House legislative branch clerk Liz Dawson said, making construction of a pedestrian tunnel between the two a risky — and expensive — endeavor.

“Because Amtrak doesn’t know where their markers and things are and there’s such a big risk taking the tunnel across First Street, we anticipate that the cost could go up substantially,” Dawson said.

Much like the train tunnel, accurate records don’t exist for the underground utilities installed decades ago and could complicate excavation further, Dawson said. The lack of quality maps for the buried infrastructure slowed the beginning of the CVC project, as crews found lines in unexpected places.